x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

RAK marathon, crunch rugby game, all in a day's work for Renier Els

Els' feats of endurance would put most players to shame, but his Abu Dhabi Harlequins teammates did their best to keep pace in 16-5 win over Dragons.

Renier Els, left, ran a half-marathon in Ras Al Khaimah, then played against the Dragons in three different roles to serve his team Abu Dhabi Harlequins. Ravindranath K / The National
Renier Els, left, ran a half-marathon in Ras Al Khaimah, then played against the Dragons in three different roles to serve his team Abu Dhabi Harlequins. Ravindranath K / The National

ABU DHABI // The next time the players who are aspiring to represent the UAE in the Asian Five Nations congregate at their base at Gold's Gym, they should choose their training buddy wisely.

They would be advised to give Renier Els the wide steer - unless they really want to be shown up.

Yesterday morning, the Abu Dhabi Harlequins forward ran the Ras Al Khaimah half-marathon, in a personal best time of 1 hour, 39 minute, 39 seconds.

Then he headed back to the capital and played in an unaccustomed position at hooker for the best part of an hour against the country's champion team.

He then swapped to his more usual role in the back-row for the last 20 minutes.

And in injury-time at the end of the game, he launched himself from the nether reaches of the field at Zayed Sports City into a bone-jarring tackle to cement a 16-5 victory. With commitment like that, no wonder this man is the UAE captain.

"There was about seven hours between the end of the race and game time, so I weighed up the options and there was enough time to recover," Els said.

"I had a bit of sleep, a lot of carbs after the race and a big breakfast, so it was fine.

"Playing at hooker was new territory for me, though. It is definitely a different game up front and I have more respect now for the guys who play up there all the time.

"My opposition, No 2 [Sean Crombie], is a really classy player and I learnt a lot from playing against him. Let's see [about ever playing at hooker again]."

Els' feats of endurance would put most players to shame, but his teammates did their best to keep pace. Ed Lewsey, the British School Al Khubairat teacher who had skipped a staff cricket match in the morning in order to be fresh for the game, was the leading light in an indomitable team effort from the home side.

As these two sides have emerged as the leading forces in UAE rugby, these fixtures have developed a distinct edge.

There was no shortage of heavy hitting - both in general play and in the midst of petty scuffles.

Not for the first time, the hosts had some guile to go with their tough edge, with Imad Reyal touching down two tries, the last of which settled the debate with just three minutes to play.

The win means the capital club are virtually assured of a place in the season-ending final, while the Dragons know they can barely afford to slip up again if they are to attain their stated target of a triple crown of titles.

"We knew they could play like this, but we expected to be better ourselves," said Paul Hart, the Dragons captain.

"We were lethargic, not physical enough, we didn't look after our own ball and our discipline was poor. They were brilliant on the counter-attack when we made mistakes.

"We have gone back a couple of weeks. We are a shadow of the team who won the [UAE Premiership] grand final and we are very, very disappointed."

pradley@thenational.ae

twitter Follow us @SprtNationalUAE