x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

UAE rugby will 'take the positives' out of Cup of Nations

After two morale-sapping losses, Quihen Marais, like the rest of his teammates, is 'trying to take the positives' as the UAE enter their final match of the Emirates Cup of Nations against Kenya.

Imad Reyal arraived an hour before his international XVs debut because of work that morning for his IT department.
Imad Reyal arraived an hour before his international XVs debut because of work that morning for his IT department.

DUBAI // Crumbs of comfort from the UAE's maiden Cup of Nations campaign are hard to find, but the national team should be consoled: worse things have happened on a rugby field.

In 1998, an England national team coached by Clive Woodward and captained by Matt Dawson went on tour to Australia and New Zealand, and were trounced in every game.

A variety of players who went on to win the World Cup five years later, including a 19-year-old Jonny Wilkinson, were given baptisms on that tour. Each later said that what did not kill them made them stronger.

If that was the "Tour of Hell", this has been the "Staycation of Suffering" for the UAE.

Two morale-sapping thrashings against Hong Kong and Brazil - who will meet today to decide the competition winner - have been sadly predictable, given the problems off the field.

All of the UAE's players have day jobs to go to before they can think of playing rugby.

Imad Reyal, for example, only arrived at the ground an hour before his international XVs debut on Saturday, as he had to do a morning's work for his IT department.

Yet none of the players have been as overworked as the team medics this week.

From run-of-the-mill knee and ankle injuries to food poisoning and stomach viruses, the UAE players have had them all this week.

All of which begs the question: how much have the UAE really got out of a new tournament which was supposed to aid progress ahead of more important challenges next year?

"We said this was going to be development and preparation for the Asian Five Nations, but we didn't want it to be as brutal as it has been," Wayne Marsters, the interim UAE coach, said.

"We can look at some guys now and say, 'Yep, they are close to the mark, if we can get five months of training with them ahead of the Asian Five Nations they will be up to it'. There are other guys who we have to send back down the ranks to get more experience. We haven't got that depth across the park."

As with England in 1998, a brilliant teenaged fly-half has emerged from the rubble of defeat.

Quihen Marais will start university in South Africa next month, but he is sure to figure strongly in the future plans for UAE rugby given his impressive displays this week.

"I've been trying to take the positives, and it has been a learning curve for me," Marais, the Al Ain Amblers back, said.

"We've still got another game to look forward to [against Kenya this afternoon] and I am keen to perform in that one."

 

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