x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Renier Els ready to make an impact for the UAE

After a tentative return to pre-season training with Abu Dhabi Harlequins last July, the South African flanker will be part the UAE pack facing Kazakhstan tonight.

Renier Els says he and teammates will be proud to present the UAE in their first game on home soil tonight.
Renier Els says he and teammates will be proud to present the UAE in their first game on home soil tonight.

ABU DHABI // If previous experience is anything to go by, the UAE will have to get past arguably the toughest, grizzliest forward pack in Asia if they are to get anything from their meeting with Kazakhstan tonight.

For those at the scrum, nastiness will have to be a prerequisite of the job. All of which could be a little beyond Renier Els, the Abu Dhabi Harlequins flanker, if he were being judged on his off-field demeanour.

"You must understand that the Test team is not necessarily like other countries where it is all the best guys who get selected," Els said modestly, after making his international debut for the UAE on Saturday.

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He is equally submissive about his physical attributes. "I guess I'm not very big, 1.83 metres tall and 100 kgs, at the moment," he said.

However, the polite disposition off the field will count for little once he crosses the white line today. He cannot wait for the collisions to start.

"I like the physical aspect of rugby," the 27-year-old loose forward said. "It suits my game. I am always up for physical confrontations, so it should be good. I am sure that is what it will be."

The UAE flanker is keen to make up for lost time. After arriving in Abu Dhabi in 2006, he barely played the game for four years, due to his work commitments as the technical supervisor on a wildlife farm owned by a member of the Royal Family.

He made a tentative return to pre-season training with Harlequins last July, and had to make do with a place on the replacements bench for the early part of the UAE Premiership campaign. By the end of the season, he was a starting back-row forward for the national team.

He impressed on his international debut, too. After the 13-13 draw in Sri Lanka, Mike Cox-Hill, the UAE captain, termed him "ubiquitous".

His coach, Bruce Birtwistle, expressed the same sentiment, though in more prosaic terms, when he said Els was "ever present" at the breakdown.

There was a time when Els dreamt about a Test debut wearing the green of the Springboks rather than the newly-minted black away kit of the UAE.

After leaving the prolific rugby school of Monument, the alma mater of Jaque Fourie, the current Bok centre, he left his native South Africa in 2006 to live in the UAE, where his mother was already working as a teacher in Sharjah.

The Emirates is now "where our heart is," he said, and he is proud for the chance to represent his adopted country.

"Some of us have been here for five years, some for eight, so the UAE is definitely our home and where our heart is at the moment," he said.

"The players who played for the Arabian Gulf in the past may say something different, but there is definitely something extra about playing for the UAE in terms of commitment.

"The boys are really willing to put their bodies on the line for this team and for the country."

pradley@thenational.ae