x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Ignored players ready to answer the UAE's rugby call

Frustrated at lack of progress and 'false promises' made since change from Arabian Gulf.

Two years ago, the then Arabian Gulf side beat Hong Kong but the UAE side were well beaten by them last weekend.
Two years ago, the then Arabian Gulf side beat Hong Kong but the UAE side were well beaten by them last weekend.

DUBAI // A group of players, who have opted out of representing the UAE after losing faith with the game's administration, say they want to be part of the solution to fix the ailing national team.

Since claiming their lone Test win in Abu Dhabi last year, the UAE have lost every match, conceding 467 points in seven games.

The demoralising run has prompted an exodus of senior players. Now the national team face a tough task to retain their place in the top tier of Asian rugby, with a daunting Test in Japan tomorrow to follow last weekend's home drubbing by Hong Kong.

"This has been my life, my passion," said Mike Riley, the prop forward who insists he would get on a flight to Japan immediately if asked, despite stepping down in protest at what he deems to be a failing administration.

"Not being a part of it has crushed me. Two years ago, we [the Arabian Gulf] beat Hong Kong, we beat [South] Korea and we should have beaten Kazakhstan. Why didn't we build on that? We knew there was going to be a transitional year, but why are we in this position two years later?"

The national team has played 10 Test matches since its advent at the start of 2011, yet Alistair Thompson, who leads the side in Japan, is already the fourth captain. Of the previous three, Mike Cox-Hill retired along with Dan Heal, the former hooker, before this campaign.

Renier Els, one of the finds of the 2011 Asian Five Nations, has opted out of this one, citing work commitments.

"There have been false promises made to UAE rugby," said one of the senior players who made himself unavailable for this competition. "We only stayed up [last year] because Sri Lanka were inexperienced and Kazakhstan were rubbish, and because we wanted to play for Bruce Birtwistle [the then coach].

"Everybody who has been here for the past 42 years has given blood, sweat and tears to get us to be in the Premiership, to maintain that and consolidate it - not go back at a rate of knots. It was bad last year, and it is even worse this year."

The player pool has been further diminished by the policy of not selecting UAE-qualified players based overseas.

That rules out two experienced forwards, Jamie Clarke, who now lives in Doha, and David Clark, who successfully applied for special dispensation to play for the UAE, his former home, while living in Bahrain.

Neither would have baulked at returning to the UAE, if invited. Clarke, the former Abu Dhabi Harlequins captain, said he would readily fly back from Qatar for every training session.

"I was absolutely 100 per cent keen to be involved this year," said another of the absent UAE internationals. "We all do it because we love rugby. It is the greatest honour any rugby player could ever have stepping out and earning an international rugby cap. It is clouded by the organisation and leadership outside of the team environment, that is the biggest issue."

Senior officials at the rugby association refused to comment when contacted yesterday.

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