x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

New crop of UAE rugby sevens players help sow the seeds

Wayne Marsters, denied entry to India because of a visa discrepancy, was delighted to hear the UAE won the third-place match against Kazakhstan at the Goa Sevens.

David Matasio, the Dubai Wasps flanker, made his debut for UAE in Goa, helping them finish third.
David Matasio, the Dubai Wasps flanker, made his debut for UAE in Goa, helping them finish third.

Given that the national representative rugby team make a habit of playing their finest rugby in adversity, it was little surprise the UAE produced their best performance of the Asian Sevens Series against a backdrop of chaos this weekend.

A national team including six debutants finished third in the Goa Sevens yesterday, following 19-12 play-off win over Kazakhstan.

It was comfortably the UAE's best return from the three tournaments which comprise the series, and was a fine effort by Tim Fletcher's team, given the confused build up.

All had appeared so promising last week, when it was announced two squads, including, for the first time, a fully Emirati development side, would be playing in Goa.

However, the best laid plans started to unravel on the eve of the tournament when Sean Hurley, one of the mainstays of the team, was refused a visa to travel.

Then, when the tourists arrived at Goa airport, Wayne Marsters, the new rugby manager, who was set to oversee his first official engagement as caretaker coach, did not make it past passport control.

In his former post, the New Zealander had taken the Iran women's side to a tournament in India seven weeks previously, and as such was one week short of being permitted to re-enter the country as per visa regulations.

Even though the visa process had conspired against him and his squad, Marsters still professed himself happy with what his side achieved in his absence.

With two weeks to go until the UAE are pitted against the top sides in the Dubai Rugby Sevens, the coach had picked a raft of new players for the trip to India.

He had set a target of a top four finish, so to win the third-place match against the Kazakhs represented success in a tournament won by Hong Kong, who beat China in the final.

"We have to be happy with that, given that lots of new players were getting their first experience of rugby at this level," Marsters said.

"We had six players making debuts. To have that and still finish third is a bonus, but we know the standard was not quite as good as it had been in the previous two tournaments [in Shanghai and Borneo]."

While Marsters was not there in person, his fingerprints were all over the Goa tournament.

His new charges won four matches and lost two over the course of the weekend, on their way to finishing third.

Elsewhere, Iran, the emerging rugby nation whom Marsters served as coach and technical director before returning to the UAE, won the final of the plate competition against Singapore.

UAE Shaheen, the Emirati side, finished last in the eight-team competition, after they lost 33-0 to the hosts, India, in the bowl final.

pradley@thenational.ae