x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

When it comes to rugby in UAE and other minnows only time will tell

Japan coach Eddie Jones pleads patience on behalf of the chasing pack in Asian rugby, writes Paul Radley.

Takashi Kikutani, with the ball, and his Japan teammates gave David Clouston, attempting the tackle, and the UAE a rough going over two years ago.
Takashi Kikutani, with the ball, and his Japan teammates gave David Clouston, attempting the tackle, and the UAE a rough going over two years ago.

Albert Einstein probably did not have Asian rugby in mind when he self-deprecatingly attempted to explain his genius by saying: "It's not that I'm so smart, I just stay with problems longer."

The Asian Five Nations, however, could do with some deep thinking.

Six years into its history, the problems the competition was set up to combat appear - superficially, at least - to be no nearer a solution. It is a five-team competition with three clear divisions.

There is an unbridgeable gap between Japan, who are on their own in the first tier, and South Korea and Hong Kong in the second.

And the gulf is similarly vast between the second-tier teams and the UAE and Philippines, who are battling each other to stave off relegation.

Even if a side from the shelf above have an off day, and the team below play to their very best, it is still no contest, at present. For example, Hong Kong's display against Japan two weeks ago was regarded as a great triumph for the smaller nation. They lost by only 38 points. Realistically, that is not close.

The UAE regarded their match against South Korea last time out as one of just two "winnable" matches for them in this competition.

Maybe that was only ever lip service: they proceeded to lose 75-10 in Al Ain.

So what to do about it? Carry on as you are, apparently. The only way Asian rugby can ever aspire to a greater level of equality will be by sticking with the problem for longer, according to Eddie Jones, the Japan coach.

"I think the only thing is time," said Jones, the Australia who was a coaching consultant to South Africa when they won the World Cup in 2007.

"You can't have any artificial advantages for teams playing Test rugby. The only way it is going to get stronger is through time."

If the UAE have managed to achieve stasis, at best, in the two years since Japan last came to this city, then tonight's encounter between the professionals of east Asia and the amateurs of the west could get ugly.

Two years ago, a Japanese side in World Cup year destroyed their hosts 111-0 at The Sevens, which was then a record tally for the competition. The Brave Blossoms may go easier this time.

They have travelled to the emirates with a weakened side from their first three outings in this year's competition, as they have six Tests in five weeks to follow this summer.

Still, it will be tough. Whatever the outcome, Jones insists the sides which make up Asian rugby's chasing pack should not be derailed from their quest to bridge the divide.

"Look at Argentina," said Jones, who is regarded as one of the most fertile minds in the international game.

"Fifteen years ago they were playing three or four Tests per year, now they are consistently in the top eight in world rugby.

"They have done that through consistent performance. That is the only way you can change, to continue to play it and to continue to put resources into it to develop the players."

 

pradley@thenational.ae

 

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