x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

UAE to look for home advantage in Asian Five Nations

Tougher opposition this year means top-tier safety could be difficult for Duncan Hall's side.

The UAE, in white, will play host to Hong Kong, whom they played in the Emirates Airline Cup of Nations in December.
The UAE, in white, will play host to Hong Kong, whom they played in the Emirates Airline Cup of Nations in December.

DUBAI // Duncan Hall, the UAE performance manager, hopes the national team will reap a crucial benefit from staging their potentially seminal HSBC Asian Five Nations fixture against Kazakhstan in Jebel Ali in May.

The fixtures for the continent's premier competition were officially announced yesterday, with the UAE granted home ties against Hong Kong and the Kazakhs.

Safeguarding their place in the top tier of Asian rugby is specified as the minimum requirement for the national team, but it is likely to be tougher this year than ever before.

Sri Lanka, who drew with the UAE on the new national team's competitive bow last year, were relegated last term and have been replaced by one of Asian rugby's traditional powerhouses, Korea.

With away fixtures against the Koreans and Japan, who have never lost in four year's of this competition, the two home ties will be vital.

"It is good to have winnable games at home," Hall, the former Australia lock forward, said.

"Although Hong Kong [who finished second to Japan last season] have some advantages, if you are going to play them, this is where you want to play them.

"It would be a difficult trip to Kazakhstan, so having them here will have its advantages."

Hong Kong were beaten by the Arabian Gulf in Bahrain the last time they played an Asian Five Nations match in this region.

The UAE gained their maiden Test win last year, when they beat the Kazakhs in Abu Dhabi, although they were watched by a paltry crowd that night.

It is hoped that staging the May 11 fixture at the Jebel Ali Centre of Excellence, the most accessible ground in the country for the majority of the rugby community, will help generate fervent backing for the home team.

"It will be fantastic as we really enjoy playing our [club] matches at that ground," Sean Hurley, the UAE and Jebel Ali Dragons back, said.

"It is the closest for a lot of people to get to, hopefully there will be a lot of people there for that game."

The Centre of Excellence is the newest rugby ground in the country, and has both an all-weather field and a grass pitch, eit her side of a small scaffolding stand.

The most notable match to be staged there to date was the recent UAE Premiership finale between the Dragons, the home club, and Dubai Hurricanes.

Few sports grounds in this country have the crowd in closer proximity to the playing area.

"We really hope [the atmosphere will help the national team]," Tim Wood, the Dragons chairman, said. "We see it as a great ground for people to get to as it is centralised. Abu Dhabi-based people can get there easily to support their players in the UAE team.

"What is more, the spectators are right on the side of the pitch, which hopefully will help the players."

 

pradley@thenational.ae