UAE captain Alistair Thompson (with ball) will lead the team in its crucial clash versus Korea
The importance of remaining in the Top Five competition of the HSBC Asian 5 Nations (HSBC A5N) for the United Arab Emirates has taken on added significance with the news that the International Rugby Board (IRB) has now granted associate membership status to the growing union.
The good news this week from the IRB, which has also promised UAE it will grant full membership in 12 months, will lift the spirits of the UAE squad led by No. 8 Alistair Thompson as they depart for Seoul to take on South Korea in the last round of the elite tournament on Saturday.
Commenting on the Union’s newfound IRB status, Duncan Hall, national coach and performance manager of the UAE Rugby Association said, “This is a giant step forward and it makes it even more crucial that we stay in the Top Five for next year.”
“Getting associate member status, and full membership soon, will add hugely to the standing and credibility of the game, and our union, within the UAE sports community. And with rugby now in the Olympic Games this will further lift our profile,” said a delighted Hall.
“More reason then that we remain in the Top Five next season. Our goal has always been to stay with the big boys of Asia and I believe we can do it,” Hall added.
An entertaining 46-31 victory over Kazakhstan a fortnight ago on their home turf has put UAE in a good position to fulfil their goals. Thompson and company will now be aiming to sign off the 2012 HSBC A5N season on a high note, although they will be aware that things could take a turn for the worse if Korea win convincingly, and if Kazakhstan manage to pull off a shock away victory, along with a bonus point, over Hong Kong in the other game on Saturday.
“We can only control what happens in our game and we will be going all out to win. And this is a winnable game in my view,” Hall said.
UAE will be buoyed by the fact that they scored seven tries against Kazakhstan, and will be hoping their forwards can win good ball so the backs can make the most of it.
“This game is all about scoring tries and it was nice to know that we can do that,” Hall said. “But it will be a tough encounter. Korea are keen to finish as number two in Asia and we know how dangerous they can be.”
Hall has rung in the changes in the backline with wingers Sean Hurley and Joel Pikari starting. Veteran wing Sean Hurley is returning after missing the Kazakhstan game, and Hall hopes his experience will be able to quash the Korean threat out wide. Pikari, meanwhile, will be making his first HSBC A5N start having come off the bench in previous games.
In a bid to give his team more bite and at the same time bolster the midfield defence, Hall has switched the dangerous Imad Reyal to fullback with Tim Fletcher moving into outside centre. The other change in the backs will see Antoine Bertheuil taking over from Patrick Hegarty who moves to the bench. The burly UAE pack will see one enforced change with openside flanker David Matario being replaced by Sam Cook.
UAE began the season with two bad defeats against Hong Kong, 85-10, and Japan, 106-3. But the win over Kazakhstan has raised hopes in the camp.
“Our aim at the start of this tournament was to win two games and stay in the Top 5. We are on target to do that,” said Hall.
It will be tough; for the Koreans on the comeback trail have looked the most impressive team next to five-time champions Japan. Wins over Hong Kong (21-19) and Kazakhstan (87-17), and a loss to Japan (52-8) has left Korea in second place and they will be aiming to seal that slot.
UAE will harken back to their inspirational win over Korea in 2010 on their last occasion playing as the Arabian Gulf – although that win came at home – and will know that they will need something extra special to repeat the feat in front of the Korean crowd.
“This match represents a team challenge for us to gauge our development over the season,” said Duncan Hall.
Although South Korea appear to be in outstanding form, Hall remains confident in the mental and physical ability of his charges. “For the team to achieve the goal of winning two matches it will take every ounce of commitment, pride and determination for the 80 minutes against Korea on Saturday,” said Hall.
No matter the results on Saturday, the UAE has achieved its biggest victory of the year in gaining recognition from the IRB. In bestowing Associate Member status on the fledgling Union, the IRB highlighted that the UAERA has a structured organisation with full-time administrators and a domestic league with 1,300 adult registered players and 4,600 youth players.
It also recognised UAE Rugby’s oversight of a seven-team domestic XV’s premiership league and an eight-team conference competition while the newly formed Emirati development national squad, Shaheen, has experienced international success in the Bangkok 7’s (winning the Shield) and various 7-a-side and 10-a-side friendly games. The Union also continues to host and manage successful tournaments, including the newly introduced Emirates Airline Cup of Nations XV’s tournament.
UAE Rugby has also teamed up with tournament title sponsor HSBC to implement pathway programmes for juniors at various Emirati schools, and has recently entered into an agreement with the Vocational Education Development Centre to be the home of the first UAE Rugby Regional Development Centre.
“UAE Rugby is very proud to have been awarded Associate Membership of the IRB” said UAE Rugby Chairman Mohammed Falaknaz. “We are also aware of the challenges of fulfilling the requirements to gain full IRB membership within 12 months. Our organisation is committed to the continued development of the game in the UAE, from the elite level through to the grass roots for the benefit of all of our rugby community” he added.
UAE Rugby’s Deputy Secretary Qais Aldhalai added, “We are very proud of what our National players, our coaches and support personnel have achieved in this year’s HSBC Asian 5 Nations. This team needed to focus and unite in a short time and aim high, commendably they have surpassed our expectations. We remain committed to the development and future successes of UAE Rugby’s National XV’s team”.
Once again, it will all come down to the wire in the HSBC Asian 5 Nations (HSBC A5N) last weekend of play. The match kicks off at 13.00 (Seoul time, 08.00 Dubai time) at Seongnam Stadium in Seoul, Korea, while Hong Kong kick off at 16.00 (Hong Kong time) at Mong Kok Stadium in Kowloon.
UAE Squad v Korea:
1. Graham Murphy Abu Dhabi Harlequins, 2. Charles Lilley, Abu Dhabi Harlequins, 3. Dan Boatwright, Dubai Hurricanes, 4. Greg Thompson, Dubai Hurricanes, 5. Simon Osborne, Dubai Hurricanes, 6. Brett Williams, Dubai Exiles, 7. Sam Cook, Abu Dhabi Harlequins, 8. Alistair Thompson (captain) Abu Dhabi Harlequins, 9. Antonie Bertheuil, Dubai Frogs, 10. Murray Strang, Abu Dhabi Harlequins, 11. Joel Pikari, Abu Dhabi Harlequins, 12. Jonathon O’Connor, Abu Dhabi Harlequins, 13. Tim Fletcher, Jebel Ali Dragons, 14. Sean Hurley, Jebel Ali Dragons, 15. Imad Reyal, Dubai Exiles, 16. Jonathan Greenwood, Sharjah Wanderers, 17. Christopher Jones-Griffiths, Abu Dhabi Harlequins, 18. Tristan Barnett, Dubai Hurricanes, 19. John Fawls, Dubai Exiles, 20. Patrick Hegarty, Abu Dhabi Harlequins, 21. Steve Smith, Dubai Hurricanes, 22. Mohammed Alsulaiman, Dubai Wasps.
Korea Squad v UAE:
1. YEO, You Jae, 2. SHIN, Young Jin, 3. KIM, Sung Hwan, 4. PARK, Soon Chia, 5. YOUN, Kwon Woo, 6. LEE, Kwang Moon, 7. YOU, Young Nam, 8. HAN, Kun Kyu, 9. YANG, Young Hun, 10. OH, Youn Hyung, 11. KIM, Gwong Min, 12. KIM, Nam Wook, 13. PARK, Noh Hoon, 14. CHO, In Soo, 15. KIM, Won Yong, 16. KIM, Jin Woong, 17. CHO, Jin Hyun, 18. KIM, Young Nam, 19. PARK, Hwan, 20. PARK, Wan Yong, 21. JEGAL, Bin 22. KWON, Jung Hyuk.