x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

UAE's new boys ready to have a go at Asian Five Nations rugby tournament

Fresh faces dot the UAE roster contesting at the Asian Five Nations, writes Paul Radley.

UAE coach Duncan Hall, centre, says the team competing at this year's Asian Five Nations tournament is more skilled than last year's.
UAE coach Duncan Hall, centre, says the team competing at this year's Asian Five Nations tournament is more skilled than last year's.

It might be tempting to think the have-a-go heroes of the UAE's national rugby team might approach the annual Asian Five Nations (A5N) with a feeling of "here we go again".

That is not necessarily the case, given the habitual turnover of players in the team.

The fact there are just four new caps for Saturday's opening match of the campaign may be down from the 10 newbies they had last year, but they are still light on A5N experience.

Not one of the UAE back line for the fixture against Hong Kong, for example, started the opening game of this competition 12 months ago.

However, whether the players are familiar with the competition or not, they are well aware of the tests facing them in the continent's flagship rugby tournament.

This is all about Asian rugby's haves playing the have-nots, the big guys against the little guys, the professionals against amateurs.

Happily for the UAE, a team composed of amateurs, they do have some considerable experience in their corner when it comes to David-and-Goliath mismatches.

Duncan Hall, the national team coach, played 15 matches for Australia as a second-row forward, despite lacking the sort of great height usually associated with Test players in his position.

"The joke around Australia was that I was allowed to take my chair out on the field for line outs," Hall said, at the final training session before they boarded their Thursday flight to Hong Kong.

Ironically, the current UAE crop is also lacking in tall second rowers, thanks to the absence from the scene of players such as Tristan Barnett, Simon Osborne and Mike Cox-Hill.

The national team remain unequivocally the little guys of this competition from a metaphorical point of view, too. With a small pool of amateur players to choose from, they have to bridge the gap to the full-professional Japan, the as-good-as professional South Korea and Hong Kong, and the emerging Philippines.

Despite the obvious challenges, Hall remains sanguine.

"I think we have advanced from last year," he said. "There were a lot of unknowns last year. I was new, I had just come in, there was a reset programme and we were just getting to know guys.

"There's opportunities. What constitutes success? Well, the easiest way is to stay in the top five, but we are aiming for two wins."

 

pradley@thenational.ae

 

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