x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Hall 'proud of' modest base at Cup of Nations

We will do the best we can, says coach of a weak side as they take on formidable Hong Kong next.

The last time UAE played Hong Kong in April, it was a 14-try mauling for the hosts. Only four of that side will take the field today.
The last time UAE played Hong Kong in April, it was a 14-try mauling for the hosts. Only four of that side will take the field today.

DUBAI // Duncan Hall, the UAE performance manager, says his side are doing the best they can given the resources available, as they prepare for another mission improbable against Hong Kong this evening.

The national team were trounced in the opening game of the second Cup of Nations when they went down 94-3 to Belgium on Saturday.

Their travails have been sadly predictable, with at least 14 senior first-team players unavailable for the duration of the competition.

The management were forced to ring around for emergency recruits from the furthest recesses of the domestic game in the lead up to their home tournament last week. It was hardly ideal preparation for a tournament involving three teams inside the top 30 in the world, but Hall say his players will battle on regardless.

"It has never been a good time of year for UAE rugby" just after the Dubai Rugby Sevens, "but we are here to play and we will do the best we can," Hall said.

"We have a lot of new caps. Last year we had 10. You don't want to keep doing that, but that is the way the deck of cards are. Unfortunately, it is a merry-go-round."

The last time UAE faced Hong Kong, in April, the national team suffered a 14-try mauling - their third thrashing at the hands of their Asia rivals in the space of a year.

One positive side-effect of having such a raw squad for this Cup of Nations means psychological scars from what has gone before are mercifully few: only four of today's squad were involved back then.

The worry is that Hong Kong are only seven places lower than Belgium in the world rankings, suggesting another evening of toil for the UAE.

"Belgium were ranked No 1, but the other sides are going to be equally as tough," Hall said.

"World rankings give an indicator and for us, everything is a step up. We are not starting from a high base of qualified-player numbers, but everyone tried their best and we are proud of them."

Ominously, Hong Kong produced what their coach, Leigh Jones, deemed to be their best performance in three years in opening their title defence with victory over Zimbabwe on Friday.

They are unlikely to go easy on their familiar opposition this evening, either.

"We shouldn't underestimate UAE," Jones said.

"I think they are a much improved team even though the score line didn't suggest that" in the defeat to Belgium.

"This is a competition we won last year.

"We wanted to come here and defend our record, but we had to be realistic in that in as much as the quality of opposition has gone up one or two levels as well."

Hong Kong beat Zimbabwe despite having an inexperienced back-line, having rested their leading sevens players for their tour to Dubai.

"It was good to get the combinations together [against Zimbabwe] and hopefully we can start putting some phases together in the next game against UAE as well," said Tom McColl, the Hong Kong captain.

"I'm sure Belgium are a great team, but UAE are going to be better for having a hit out as well."

sports@thenational.ae

twitter Follow us @SprtNationalUAE