x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

UAE's weary side face tough test to bounce back after Japan loss

UAE have a week to recover from 93-3 loss to Japan before they play their final Asian Five Nations game against the Philippines.

The UAE's Steve Smith, back to camera, looks to put Masataka Mikami, left, of Japan under pressure.
The UAE's Steve Smith, back to camera, looks to put Masataka Mikami, left, of Japan under pressure.

DUBAI // So Japan won by miles. Hold the front page. The UAE's annual mission impossible panned out more or less exactly as advertised with the red machine running in 15 tries at The Sevens last night.

And yet one thing erred from the script. The national team's spirit failed to self destruct and with one chance left to save their place at Asian rugby's top table, in the Philippines next week, it remains on a long fuse.

The mind may still be willing, but they will be having to count the bodies by the time they reach Manila.

Such is the way of matches against Asian rugby's one great super power, who signed off their sixth successive Five Nations triumph with a resounding victory.

Eddie Jones, who took over the coaching reins from John Kirwan in 2011, is in the middle of a four year plan to remodel Japanese rugby.

His aim is two-fold. Most importantly he wants to get Japan to a position where they can finally win a World Cup match, in the UK in two years time.

Secondly, he wants to change the face of the team to the point the indigenous players are the chief influences on it.

The influence of their expatriate players was certainly diluted in comparison to the last time Japan played here, when they beat UAE 111-0 two years ago. However, the quality of their imported talent is still startling - maybe even better than it was before.

Take Craig Wing, for example. He is playing his first series for Japan, having played 14 matches for Australia's world leading rugby league team in the past.

Given that he played a number of State of Origin series for New South Wales before switching codes, he probably thought a trip to Dubai to play against some schoolteachers and sales directors would be a walk in the park.

Yet he will have a few bruises this morning to prove he was involved in a contest. James Ham, the UAE fly half, who is not especially noted for defence, put one big hit in on the former Kangaroo in the first half. With such a large disparity between the two unions, the UAE players had to take their victories where they could find them.

Most will have a story to tell today. Jono Bester, the scrum half filling in on the right wing, has got the one about leaving Seiichi Shimomura, the Japan centre, in a crumpled heap after one crisply timed hit.

And Shoji Ito, the lock, will thing twice about racing down Dave Matasio's channel again, having been knocked backwards by the UAE's Kenyan wall. Ed Talbot and Anthony Murphy were everywhere.

It is easy to patronise a team who stood no chance even before a ball was kicked with faint praise.

But the UAE's part-timers deserve genuine credit for their fight on this occasion.

pradley@thenational.ae

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