x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

UAE remain confident in squad ahead of Kazakhstan match

Selectors keep faith with players who were beaten in Japan for crucial Asian Five Nations encounter.

David Matasio, in action for the Dubai Wasps, has kept his place in the UAE side at flanker for the Asian Five Nations game with Kazakhstan.
David Matasio, in action for the Dubai Wasps, has kept his place in the UAE side at flanker for the Asian Five Nations game with Kazakhstan.

DUBAI // The UAE Rugby Association say they still have faith in the people they have entrusted to develop the game here, despite the recent unrest within the sport.

The national team face Kazakhstan tomorrow in a match that is likely to decide whether the UAE stay in the top tier of Asian rugby.

The bid to maintain their status among the elite has been hamstrung by the absence of a raft of senior players for this Asian Five Nations.

Some are out through injury, but a group of others have opted to stay away despite being fit for duty.

The selectors have opted to name broadly the same squad for tomorrow's match to that which travelled to Japan last week.

They resisted the temptation to approach any of the disaffected players to bolster their ranks, and Qais Al Dhalai, the deputy secretary of the UAE RA, says the will to succeed remains strong.

"UAE Rugby remains committed to the development of the national team, the process involved and the team in place who have been tasked with this development," Al Dhalai said. "Regardless of the outcome [against Kazakhstan] we still have to face South Korea in our final round and our resolve in this campaign will stay focused and strong."

The UAE have endured a torrid Five Nations campaign so far, with the off-field problems, serious injury, and two hefty defeats almost bringing the game here to its knees.

However, Duncan Hall, the UAE performance manager and national team coach, says the struggles they have faced have only served to unite his side.

"The Five Nations draw to face Hong Kong and Japan in the first two weeks was playing to achieve wins against impossible odds," the former Australia international said. "We've played under enormous pressure, that has led to mistakes on the field during this campaign. We have no excuses and have gained valuable experience.

"Having been exposed to playing by far the best two sides in Asia early in the campaign has united the players more on and off the field."

Despite a wretched run with injuries, Hall has managed to name a relatively settled side over the first three weeks of the competition.

After missing the trip to the Far East because of work commitments, Sam Cook, the flanker, has been brought into the squad to face Kazakhstan at the expense of his Abu Dhabi Harlequins clubmate, Joel Pikari, the full-back.

Cook will start from the replacements bench as David Matasio, whom Hall deemed "magnificent" in the defeat to Japan, retains his place in the starting XV.

Cook's recall may be the only change to the 22-man squad from Japan, but this group of players are still feeling their way on the international stage.

The starting line up contains just three players - Tim Fletcher, Simon Osborne and Steve Smith - who started the corresponding fixture 12 months ago.

That win in Abu Dhabi was also the lone success out of three previous meetings with the side from the former Soviet state in this competition.

Hall acknowledged that the playing resources available to him are shallow, but he is proud of the commitment shown by the group of players under his charge.

"To move forward we need to build on what we have available, we don't have the luxury of a deep talent pool," Hall said. "I am proud of the commitment and attitude that has come through in many of the players particularly over the past two weeks, these players have earned their right to represent the UAE."

pradley@thenational.ae

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