x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

UAE rugby on the hunt to find winning formula at Asian Five Nations

Various options in front of the UAE national rugby team range from getting injured players healthy, putting a call out to absentees and forgetting the setbacks. Paul Radley explains.

South Korea, in white, had the UAE well covered in their Asian Five Nations match at Al Ain.
South Korea, in white, had the UAE well covered in their Asian Five Nations match at Al Ain.

The trapdoor is being unlatched. Halfway through the 2013 Asian Five Nations it is clear that the UAE's only chance of salvation will be their final weekend trip to Manila to face the Philippines.

Lose that, and relegation is a certainty. Would that be all bad for the game here? Possibly not entirely, but the national team's hardy amateur players are still fighting to stave off the drop.

With a bye next weekend, followed by the arrival of Japan sevens days later, the UAE have two weeks to hatch a survival plan.

 

GET JAMES HAM FIT

Fly-half always used to be the problem position for the representative team, with players better suited to playing at centre, rugby league converts, and second-string club players all being tried there with contrasting success.

Then a raft of high quality stand-offs became available all of a sudden, and the future looked bright.

Where did they all go? Murray Strang and Andy Russell have been conspicuous by their absence from the national team for too long now, meaning there was no obvious cover when James Ham went down with injury last week.

Like any No 10 worth his salt, Ham is adept at managing the game with the boot, which was a clear area of worry in the 75-10 loss against South Korea on Friday.

The UAE had three different kickers for three separate functions, which reflected a general lack of direction.

 

COMPARTMENTALISE

Next up, the national team welcome Japan to Dubai. That never ends well. The last time the perennial champions came to these shores they won 111-0, which was a tournament record until they put 121 on the Philippines last week.

And there were loads of people to watch, too, mostly to see a Japan side adding the final touches to their Rugby World Cup preparations. All of which only added to the agony for the home players.

Shell-shocked, the UAE then travelled to Hong Kong and were savaged by a side they had beaten only a year earlier - albeit under the guise of the Arabian Gulf.

The same thing cannot happen again this time.

The players need to accept they will be in for some mental and physical suffering against the Brave Blossoms, then immediately file it away with all life's other experiences.

"There won't be any trouble in getting the boys up," said Harry Woods, the UAE try scorer in their defeat to South Korea.

"We are all excited to make a difference here and keep this team in the Asian Five Nations for next year."

 

SEND SOS TO THE ABSENTEES?

The UAE coaching staff have shown a commendable commitment to those players who have been the most assiduous in training.

The group of players who have played in the two heavy defeats so far have the respect of everyone involved with the game here for putting themselves in the firing line when it might have been easy to opt out.

But desperate times call for desperate measures. If they are serious about staying in the top tier, the UAE might need to think about calling up those absentees who are facing up to a long, boring, sport-free summer to help lend a hand.

Imad Reyal is the most potent attacker in UAE rugby.

He is fit and ready. A player like him - or Russell, or Tim Fletcher, the lists goes on - could be the difference between staying up or going down.

If they are going to get them in, they need to do it quickly, to ensure they are up to speed on the game plan. Given their respective talents, however, it would not take much for them to slot straight in.

 

pradley@thenational.ae

 

twitter Follow us @SprtNationalUAE