Opening ARC defeat can act as launch pad for Apollo’s UAE

They may have started off dreaming of the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan, but the UAE's main objective at the Asia Rugby Championship in Malaysia is retaining their Division I status

Matt Jones
by Matt Jones
15th May 2017

article:15th May 2017

Kris Greene (l) and Luke Stevenson attempt to stop Malaysia's Badrul Bin Muktee
Kris Greene (l) and Luke Stevenson attempt to stop Malaysia's Badrul Bin Muktee

Talk prior to the Asia Rugby Championship kicking off centred around the grand possibility, albeit feint, that the UAE could potentially, incredibly, find themselves among the illustrious company of New Zealand, England and Australia at the next Rugby World Cup in Japan in 2019.

That possibility was always going to be an enormous task to achieve, although an opening defeat on Sunday shouldn’t deter Apollo Perelini and his players from believing that winning the ARC’s Division I is beyond their reach in Ipoh.

But above all else, maintaining their status in Asia Rugby’s second tier is of paramount importance.

And perhaps the focus can switch to the main objective now that the hue of their World Cup dreams might just have diminished following the reality check against Malaysia.

Sure, who wouldn’t want to go to a World Cup. It would be a dream come true.

But, first and foremost, the UAE need to continue the excellent progress which has been made since they tumbled to the biggest low in the nation’s recent rugby memory – dropping into Division II, Asia’s third tier, following their 30-13 defeat to Singapore in a play-off on April 23, 2014.

Since that dark day three years ago, their future has got brighter and brighter. Standards, players and teams have improved rapidly domestically.

Former dual code Samoa star Perelini came on board as the national team’s rugby performance manager in October 2015. And, with the New Zealander at the helm, they climbed back into Division I last year with consummate ease.

The mindset after thrashing Uzbekistan 65-13 and Thailand 70-18 some 12 months ago was that the UAE were ready to take on the world.

A first trophy as a Test nation had been earned and they came into this year’s tournament riding on the steed of momentum that a historic three-game unbeaten run brings with it.

There is no need for that feeling of invincibility to suddenly start to appear invisible. The UAE showed plenty of grit, desire and attacking prowess against Malaysia to suggest the outcome of the Division I title can be just as unpredictable as it was in 2016.

The UAE need only look at their victors Malaysia, who won this tournament a year ago despite going down to defeat against the Philippines in their opening game.

Apollo’s mission is far from a failure. The stars of Asia Rugby’s top three are still within reach. It’s now time to give their campaign lift-off.



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