UAE face Kazakhstan in crunch A5N rugby tie
Hosts aim to bounce back after two losses
UAE Rugby face a battle for survival in the HSBC Asian 5 Nations (A5N) Top 5 competition when they take on Kazakhstan at The Sevens on Friday.
Kick-off is scheduled for 4pm in what is billed as a relegation battle particularly after South Korea pulled off a 21-19 victory against Hong Kong last week.
UAE are aiming to bounce back from the battering they received at the hands of Hong Kong (85-10) and Japan (106-3).
Kazakhstan opened its 2012 season with an 87-0 loss to Japan but had a bye last weekend.
After two rounds of high intensity rugby, UAE will be seeking an improved performance and hope home advantage will work in their favour in this crucial third-round clash after their new-look outfit learned lessons the hard way.
“We have learned to defend better from our first two games, even though the scoreboard doesn’t reflect it, and hopefully we will be able to use that to good effect against Kazakhstan,” said UAE's performance manager Duncan Hall.
Hall has made four changes to the starting XV in a bid to field the best squad.
Graham Murphy steps back into the front row, Tim Fletcher steps into outside Centre, John Fawls at right wing and Imad Reyal takes on full back duties. Starting from the bench is Chris Jones-Griffiths, Sean Hurley and returning to the squad is Sam Cook at no.19.
“The A5N draw to face Hong Kong and Japan in the first 2 weeks (without rest) was playing to achieve wins against impossible odds,” admits Hall.
“We’ve played under enormous pressure, that has led to mistakes on the field during this campaign. We have no excuses and have gained valuable experience. The next match against Kazakhstan is now our time to use these experiences and play with high expectations. We have prepared to deliver confident, effective combinations and having been exposed to playing by far the best two sides in Asia (early in the campaign) has united the players more on and off the field,” he added.
Hall is aware of the immense pressure he and his squad face at home.
“To move forward we need to build on what we have available, we don’t (currently) have the luxury of a deep talent pool. I am proud of the commitment and attitude that has come through in many of the players particularly over the past two weeks, these players have earned their right to represent the UAE,” he said.
“This was always going to be our crucial game,” Hall added. “We knew we would face two challenging games in our opening encounters and last week’s result, where South Korea defeated Hong Kong, makes this game even more critical.”
Korea, returning to the top flight, defeated Hong Kong 21-19 to move up three places in the IRB world rankings to 28th. Hong Kong slipped down to 29.
UAE does not have an official ranking as they have still to play the required number of internationals, but realise that a loss against Kazakhstan will all but shut the door on them in the Top Five next year.
“We can’t assume anyone is going down as yet. We have two games to go and our target when we began was to win two matches. So we are still in with a shout,” Hall said.
“The guys have worked hard. We have struggled so far because we are not used to playing under such intense pressure. The speed at which Japan and Hong Kong played has been incredible.
“We don’t have anyone of the calibre of say the Japanese winger (Yoshikazu Fujita) who scored six tries against us. We are not endowed with speed, but I can see improvement in our side and hopefully that will be translated on to the scoreboard,” Hall added.
UAE has received some words of encouragement from Japan’s new coach Eddie Jones who has said he liked the “commitment” showed by the players.
“They lost on the scoreboard, but in terms of attitude, there are some really good signs there,” Jones told the media after last week’s match.
“We are playing with limited numbers,” admitted Hall. “But all these guys have a lot of heart.”
In this week’s other HSBC A5N Top 5 match, Japan are away to South Korea in a battle of the last two unbeaten teams remaining in this year’s Top 5 competition. The game will be held at Seongnam Stadium in Seoul at 13.00 local time on Saturday.
1. Graham Murphy – Abu Dhabi Harlequins
2. Peter Sampson – Abu Dhabi Harlequins
3. Dan Boatwright – Dubai Hurricanes
4. Greg Thompson – Dubai Hurricanes
5. Simon Osborne – Dubai Hurricanes
6. Brett Williams – Dubai Exiles
7. David Matasio – Dubai Wasps
8. Alistair Thompson (captain) – Abu Dhabi Harlequins
9. Patrick Hegarty – Abu Dhabi Harlequins
10. Murray Strang – Abu Dhabi Harlequins
11. Steve Smith – Dubai Hurricanes
12. Jonathon O’Connor – Abu Dhabi Harlequins
13. Tim Fletcher (vice-captain) – Jebel Ali Dragons
14. John Fawls – Dubai Exiles
15. Imad Reyal – Dubai Exiles
16. Charles Lilley – Abu Dhabi Harlequins
17. Christopher Jones-Griffiths – Abu Dhabi Harlequins
18. Tristan Barnett – Dubai Hurricanes
19. Sam Cook – Abu Dhabi Harlequins
20. Antoine Bertheuil – Dubai Frogs
21. Sean Hurley – Jebel Ali Dragons
22. Mohammed Alsulaiman – Dubai Wasps