x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Raw UAE are bolstered by the return of experienced quartet

The faint prospect of playing at the Hong Kong Sevens has prompted the old guard of UAE rugby to return to the ranks to aid the national team's Borneo Sevens challenge this weekend.

DUBAI // The faint prospect of playing at the Hong Kong Sevens has prompted the old guard of UAE rugby to return to the ranks to aid the national team's Borneo Sevens challenge this weekend.

The tournament is the second half of the HSBC Asian Sevens Series, which is primarily a guide to decide whether the national team warrant a place at their own World Series tournament, in Dubai in December.

However, the best ranked sides in the series will also be granted a place in the prestigious Hong Kong Sevens in March.

Given the poor show by the raw squad which travelled to the first leg of the series in China, the UAE's chances of making it there are slim.

On the back of finishing 10th out of the 12 sides in Shanghai, the national team were yesterday drawn out of the pot for the lowest-ranked sides for the Borneo competition. As such, they have been pitched into a pool with Japan, Kazakhstan and the Philippines for Saturday's opening day of competition.

They have been able to recall some players with a vast knowledge of the abbreviated form of the game, though.

Sean Hurley, who is also juggling the tour manager's duties, passed himself fit to play following a shoulder injury sustained in the Asian Five Nations at the end of last season.

Steve Smith, the Dubai Hurricanes wing, has been training with the sevens side while pondering retirement from the game. The most notable return, however, is that of Stephen Cooper, who has barely played any level of rugby since captaining the Arabian Gulf at the 2009 Sevens World Cup.

Chris Gregory, the experienced hooker who was also part of that World Cup squad, has cited the lure of the Hong Kong Sevens as the reason for carrying on.

After years of service with Gulf rugby, Gregory skipped the UAE's maiden Asian Five Nations campaign at the end of last season.

However, he opted to rejoin the sevens programme - he will miss his club side's opening day meeting with the Dubai Exiles on Friday - because of the incentive offered by Hong Kong.

"I just wanted to play after I heard there was a chance we might be able to play in Hong Kong, it would be an absolute dream to play in that," Gregory, who was one of the few UAE players with any sevens experience who travelled to Shanghai, said.

"After the results we got in the last tournament, that is probably not going to happen now."