x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

UAE buoyed by battling display ahead of A5N game against Philippines

Duncan Hall's side in must-win game in Manila on Saturday to preserve top-flight status in Asia's premier rugby union competition, writes Paul Radley.

Cyrus Homayoun, right, the UAE winger, was part of an overworked defence against Japan on Friday. But Renier Els, the Emirates captain, hopes his side will havemore of the ball against Philippines. Jaime Puebla / The National
Cyrus Homayoun, right, the UAE winger, was part of an overworked defence against Japan on Friday. But Renier Els, the Emirates captain, hopes his side will havemore of the ball against Philippines. Jaime Puebla / The National

DUBAI // Odd thing, Asian rugby union. Even though the UAE's players were battered both physically and on the scoreboard in their 93-3 defeat to Japan on Friday night, their spirit seems to have been enriched by the experience.

Take Chris Burch, the national team's inside centre, for example. When he left the field in the second half of the Test match against the best side in Asia, clutching his shoulder, it appeared possible his rugby career could be over.

The injury looked serious, and Burch has been planning to take a year out of the game, anyway, so it seemed highly likely he had run his race.

Was it the end of the line for one of the clutch of thirtysomethings in the UAE team? As if.

He enjoyed the experience of testing himself against the best in Asia so much that he is shelving his plans for a rugby sabbatical.

The wife will no doubt be delighted.

It was that sort of night for UAE rugby. They were on to a loser from the moment Japan's flight touched down on the tarmac at Dubai International Airport midway through last week.

How they responded to the adversity, however, was going to be the telling part. They now face a fixture in the Philippines on Saturday that will decide whether the country remains part of the top flight of continental rugby, and they will travel with morale soaring.

"It was the best performance we have put in against Japan in the last three times we have played them, so we have reason to be happy about it," said Renier Els, the UAE captain.

"We must [raise our game]. It will all come down to that game against the Philippines.

"They are a similar team to us, but from the videos we have seen, hopefully our forwards will be better than theirs.

"They have a strong attacking backline, which we will have to match. [Against Japan], we had to focus on defence but we know you can't win games without the ball."

Duncan Hall, the UAE coach, was cheered by his side's improved performance against Japan but he acknowledged the only thing that matters next weekend is the bottom line.

"The guys know what they have to do in the Philippines and that is win the game, whether it be by one point or 10 points, it doesn't matter," Hall said.

"We are going there to win. Our players manned up [against Japan]. As a coach, you want to see your players improve and we achieved those things [on Friday night]."

After the game against Japan, some of the UAE's players were having their photographs taken on their mobile telephones with the opposition coach, Eddie Jones.

Such is the former Australia coach's renown, the home players will have been chuffed to hear his feedback on their performance.

This time last year, Jones correctly forecast that the UAE would beat Kazakhstan and thus maintain their top-flight status.

He did not go quite that far this time, but he did intimate the national team should be optimistic of their chances when they travel to Manila.

"The UAE got stuck in, they contested well and made the breakdown difficult for us," Jones said.

"I'm sure the UAE, if they play like that against the Philippines, will do well."

pradley@thenational.ae

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