x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Hard work pays off for Belgium rugby side with 94-3 win over UAE

The team of relative unknowns justify top-ranked side status at the Emirates Cup of Nations with a comfortable result against the hosts.

The UAE team did most of the chasing against Belgium at The Sevens.
The UAE team did most of the chasing against Belgium at The Sevens.

DUBAI // When it comes to name recognition amongst the sporting public in his homeland, Alan Williams is never likely to rival the likes of Marouane Fellaini or Jan Vertonghen.

Maybe he would have more luck in Swansea, or Cardiff, or the Rhondda Valley. He sounds like the latest product of the fabled Wales fly-half factory.

And, although he speaks no English, let alone Welsh, he plays a bit like it, too. The Belgian Williams scored 44 points from full-back as the highest-ranked side in this year's Cup of Nations made light work of the UAE.

Belgium, ranked 23rd in the world, hope to reach the 2019 World Cup in Japan.

Then maybe their players will be as well known as those in the round ball code.

"People do not really know the names of our players yet, but they know that the Belgium team is doing very well and they are following us," Williams said, with the assistance of an interpreter.

"We went from having 50 spectators at our matches to 7,000. There is clearly much more awareness of the game now."

A week on from the annual sevens carnival, UAE rugby came back to earth with a severe bump last night.

Belgium, who beat the French military in a warm-up match for this tournament, were merciless.

"We prepared really hard for this game, no matter if [the UAE] were not well ranked," said Richard McClintoch, the Belgium coach. "We want to prepare the same way as we do for any opposition, as though they are top level opposition."

If the UAE could have finished their 2013 Cup of Nations campaign after five minutes they would have been happy.

They held the lead at that point, with James Ham's successfully converting his first shot at goal in international rugby.

It was due reward for a bright start by the national team. What followed, though, had all the inevitability of a hot summer in Dubai.

Before the home side had even touched the ball again, Belgium opened their account when Andrew Thibault gathered a restart and ran in unopposed.

The UAE barely had any respite from that point on and, 89 points later, they were left hoping Christmas would arrive early. Today would do.

One of the few morsels of cheer for the UAE arrived in the form of a bright display for Hareb Al Azri on debut. The Al Ain-raised Emirati winger, who filled in at centre for this game, said he was still proud to play for his country despite the adverse scoreline.

"We didn't get the results I was hoping for, but it was still an honour to represent my country," Al Azri said.

"We are still a new team so hopefully we can expand our skills after this experience."

pradley@thenational.ae

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