x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

No holding back on Japan trip by UAE rugby coach

Duncan Hall to take strongest side ahead of crucial Asian Five Nations game against Kazakhstan.

The UAE national team got off a bad start losing to Hong Kong.
The UAE national team got off a bad start losing to Hong Kong.

DUBAI // Duncan Hall, the performance manager for UAE Rugby, has turned down the chance to rest key players ahead of a potential relegation decider against Kazakhstan next week, after naming the strongest available squad for this weekend's trip to Japan.

The Japan fixture is the toughest in the annual Asian Five Nations competition. The Cherry Blossoms have won all 17 matches since the competition was launched in 2008.

They beat the UAE 111-0 last year, as part of their build up to playing at the Rugby World Cup in New Zealand.

They are immediately back in the groove this time around, too, having thrashed Kazakhstan on the opening weekend of competition.

Realistically, the match against the Kazakhs at The Sevens, Dubai, which follows six days after the fixture in Fukuoka, will decide whether the national team remain in the top flight of Asian rugby.

Hall believes the benefits of a relatively new crop of players playing another Test match together, no matter the merits of the opposition, outweigh the possibility of fatigue ahead of the tests which follow.

"We need to play our strongest team," the former Australia second-row forward said. "We will be using our bench a lot more this week, and some guys will play half a game.

"I think we are better off playing for the match fitness with our key guys. We only have what we have. Every game is going to be hard and a bit [of a step into the] unknown."

Some changes to the starting line up which was comprehensively beaten by Hong Kong on Friday have been forced upon the coach.

Sam Cook, the Abu Dhabi Harlequins flanker, cannot make the trip because of work commitments, and will be replaced in the back-row by Dave Matasio, the Dubai Wasps flanker.

Abu Dhabi's monopoly on front-row forwards is evidenced by the fact two Harlequins, Chris Jones-Griffiths and Pete Sampson, have swapped places with Graham Murphy and Charles Lilley, their clubmates, at loose-head prop and hooker.

In the backline, Murray Strang, another Quin, will assume the No 10 shirt vacated by Andy Russell, who broke a bone in his leg on his Five Nations debut.

Since these two sides met last year, Japan have played at a World Cup and swapped one high profile coach, John Kirwan, for another in Eddie Jones, the former Australia coach.

"The idea that the new Japan side might have to have a couple of games to find their feet will have to be thrown out the window after they beat Kazakhstan 87-0," said Alistair Thompson, the UAE captain.

"It will be challenging again. We have to put right the things that didn't go so smoothly against Hong Kong."

Hall insists his side remain up for the fight despite their tough examination last week.

"There are a few bruised egos, bodies are a bit battered, but everyone is in good spirits," he said. "We are trying to win as many little battles within the game, although you mightn't win the war."

pradley@thenational.ae

The 22-man squad, under the captaincy of Alistair Thompson is:

1. Christopher Jones-Griffiths – Abu Dhabi

2. Peter Sampson – Abu Dhabi Harlequins

3. Dan Boatwright – Dubai Hurricanes

4. Greg Thompson – Dubai Hurricanes

5. Simon Osborne – Dubai Hurricanes

6. Brett Williams – Dubai Exiles

7. David Matasio – Dubai Wasps

8. Alistair Thompson (C) – Abu Dhabi Harlequins

9. Patrick Hegarty – Abu Dhabi Harlequins

10. Murray Strang – Abu Dhabi Harlequins

11. Steve Smith – Dubai Hurricanes

12. Jonathon O’Connor – Abu Dhabi Harlequins

13. Imad Reyal – Dubai Exiles

14. Sean Hurley – Jebel Ali Dragons

15. Tim Fletcher (VC) – Jebel Ali Dragons

16. Charles Lilley – Abu Dhabi Harlequins

17. Graham Murphy – Abu Dhabi Harlequins

18. Tristan Barnett – Dubai Hurricanes

19. John Fawls – Dubai Exiles

20. Antoine Bertheuil – Dubai Frogs

21. Joel Pikari – Abu Dhabi Harlequins

22. Mohammed Alsulaiman – Dubai Wasps

twitter Follow us @SprtNationalUAE & Paul Radley @PaulRadley