x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Tired and tested UAE show at Emirates International Sevens pleases coach

Hall rues fitness in fourth-place finish for the seniors but Shaheen side win Bowl final.

The UAE's Walid Al Baloshi, right, swoops down on a pass after a tackle on a Lebanese player at the Emirates International Sevens in Dubai. Jaime Puebla / The National
The UAE's Walid Al Baloshi, right, swoops down on a pass after a tackle on a Lebanese player at the Emirates International Sevens in Dubai. Jaime Puebla / The National

DUBAI // Although the two days of the Emirates International Sevens returned starkly contrasting report cards, the headmaster of UAE rugby struggled to find reason for criticism.

His pupils, still relatively unschooled in international rugby, delighted during Day 1 of the tournament on Friday, triumphing in each of their three matches.

They even defeated Pakistan, by far the superior team when dealing in the coveted currency of experience.

Yesterday at The Sevens, though, the UAE could not match the performance of the previous night, losing to Egypt and Lebanon before coming up short in the Plate tussle that decided third place.

In all, finishing fourth provided much reason for optimism, according to Duncan Hall, the UAE performance manager.

"Compared to where we were in November against Lebanon there's been a dramatic increase in our ability to play the game," Hall said, referencing his side's 50-12 defeat to their West Asian rivals a few months ago.

This time the UAE ran Lebanon, the tournament's overall winners, close, as the 14-7 score confirmed.

"The big hold back is fitness, but technically the boys have shown they can compete," Hall said.

"Pakistan are in division three or four of [the Asian Five Nations] whereas if you put us into something like that we'd probably be playing in a regional league.

"So we're trying to come up two or three levels. But it's a journey. We'd a good Day 1 - remaining undefeated - and in that close defeat to Lebanon we could easily have won, which would've put us in the final.

"I'm very pleased with the progression."

Tiredness, predictably, limited the immediate advancement yesterday.

The searing heat clearly affected the UAE, yet they were driven through the first two matches by the likes of Mohanned Shaker, the prop forward, before a second meeting with Pakistan yielded a different outcome to its original.

Hall did not say as much, but it appeared his weary troops had exceeded pre-tournament expectations.

"In all the rugby I deal with here we're looking at the performance and what we're doing with the skills," he said.

"Everyone wants the results, and I want them too, but you can't put the cart before the horse.

"So we're looking at our ability in the likes of decision-making and passing, which sounds pretty mundane, but if you do those things well you're going to get the ball over the try line. And that's improving."

There was major development, too, in the displays of the UAE Shaheen. The Emirates' second team, the majority of whom took up the game only in November, lost all five of their group matches after being drafted in place of Afghanistan, but managed to pull off a surprise win against Saudi Arabia in the Bowl final.

It certainly bodes well for the future of the senior side.

"You need to widen your base," Hall said.

"Instead of just picking from seven or 12 guys we want 25 and then 45 and 55. That's coming. We've practice every week, and have guys in the gym so, now that we realise what we have to do, it's just a matter of doing it."

jmcauley@thenational.ae

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