x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

UAE rugby union clubs' depth to be put to the test

Top teams deprived of star performers as national coach Wayne Marsters picks them to play in Mumbai Sevens.

Jono Bester, the Dubai Wasps player, will represent the UAE at the Mumbai Sevens this weekend. Courtesy Elite Step
Jono Bester, the Dubai Wasps player, will represent the UAE at the Mumbai Sevens this weekend. Courtesy Elite Step

DUBAI // Those clubs chasing a place in the UAE Premiership grand final will have their bench strength examined on Friday when a variety of the domestic game's leading players travel to India to play sevens instead.

The Abu Dhabi Harlequins will try to win the first ever Capital Cup without the usual core of their backline after Imad Reyal, Murray Strang and Patrick Hegarty were named in the UAE squad for the Mumbai Sevens.

The Dubai Hurricanes will face their neighbours the Exiles without their long-serving captain, Chris Gregory, who has been recalled by the UAE for his first appearance in this year's Asian Sevens Series.

The Jebel Ali Dragons will be denied the services of Byron Kraemer, their open-side flanker who has arguably been the standout player in first two weeks of the domestic campaign.

His absence might have offered a chance for their lesser-established opponents, the Dubai Wasps, to sniff an upset at The Sevens on Friday.

However, the effect is comfortably offset as the Wasps will also be without three of their own, including two first-team mainstays in Jono Bester and Mohannad Shaker.

Despite limiting their firepower on the field in the short-term, the Wasps are proud they already have regular international representatives, despite having just started their third season in domestic competition.

The club itself is so young, were it a player it would not yet be eligible to play for the UAE.

"We have three senior men's players flying to India this weekend, in key positions too," said Craig Gibson, the Wasps chairman. "Of course that will be a test of our strength in depth. However, we are building to compete in the top tier of regional rugby and attract players of international standard so we look at these challenges positively."

The national team should benefit from the fact the majority of players selected for Mumbai have started the season in fine form.

Strang returns to the side after a long-standing back injury, while Mohammed Abbas, the fleet-footed Emirati winger, gets a second chance to impress.

"Borneo and Shanghai [the first two legs of the series] gave us the opportunity to blood new players and expose them to a more intense, cohesive playing style," said Wayne Marsters, the UAE sevens coach.

"We anticipate that our first two games [against Hong Kong and Thailand] will be very demanding, we are expecting to be challenged physically and mentally.

"But we are ready to step up, we are definitely fitter and have implemented more assertive, effective plays into our game."

The national team are in eighth place in the series, some way off their initial target for the competition, but the UAE Rugby Association believe progress in being made.

"We are encouraged by the development of the team, as a whole, and individually through preparations and participation in this series" said Qais Al Dhalai, the deputy general of the UAE RA.

pradley@thenational.ae

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