Year in review: UAE rugby's steady ascent continued in 2017 under Apollo Perelini

Matt Jones 20/12/2017
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Apollo Perelini's guidance has seen a recovery for UAE rugby.

It might not be at the heady heights of professionalism like its illustrious rival, football, but the UAE national rugby team is certainly in better health on the field than those playing with the ball at their feet instead of their hands.

The UAE has been on a steady ascent over the last few years, since their nadir was reached with a 30-13 loss in a play-off to Singapore in April 2014. It was a result that sent them spiralling down into Asia Rugby’s third tier – the UAE suffering the ignominy of relegation on their home patch of The Sevens.

Performance manager Roelof Koetze had been making steady progress but left in October 2015 for a job with the Pumas in his native South Africa. He handed the reins over to former dual code international star Apollo Perelini and the nation has been on an upward trajectory ever since.

While the low point was reached on that dark April 23 day, the zenith came this past May when Perelini and an ever-strengthening side fought alongside Sri Lanka, Malaysia and the Philippines for the Asia Rugby Championship Division I title and a chance to join the big guns of Japan, Hong Kong and South Korea. There was even a remote possibility of a chance to feature at the Rugby World Cup in two years’ time in Japan.

Okay, so hopes of making it to the game’s greatest showpiece in the Land of the Rising Sun were quickly dashed as Perelini’s side flopped to three chastening defeats in Malaysia – yet the seed has been sewn. UAE rugby is on the rise.

It’s a far cry from 2014 when representing the UAE was seen as a chore, rather than an honour. The players that featured in Malaysia received a great education in what to expect at the next level – their opponents were fitter, faster and better conditioned. But it gave the squad – the best UAE one assembled in years, possibly ever – a platform from which to build.

Thankfully, Asia Rugby decided against relegating the UAE from Division I so they will feature again next May and they will now know what is required to succeed.

Add in the fact their ranks are set to be bolstered by another wave of newly-qualified players – chief among the candidates likely to pique Perelini’s interest being Jebel Ali Dragons’ Fijian centre Saki Nasau – and progress is possible.

At youth level, the future also looks extremely bright. Perelini took a UAE Under-18 girls’ team to the Paris World Games in July, and they have progressed rapidly since becoming the first all-Emirati female team to represent the UAE in rugby at the 2016 Dubai Sevens.

The UAE U19 men’s side have just returned home following a victorious showing at the Asia Rugby U19 Division 1 Championship in Manila, Perelini leading his talented young side to a 19-12 victory in the final over South Korea that sees them promoted to next year’s top tier U19 Asia Rugby Championship.

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All Blacks great Dan Carter fined for drink driving in Paris

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Let off easy: Dan Carter.

All Blacks great Dan Carter was fined just 1000 when he appeared in a French court on drink driving charges in October, according to recently released court documents AFP has seen.

The 35-year-old two-time World Cup winner who plays at Paris club Racing 92 was arrested in February on charges that can carry custodial sentences of two years.

Carter, who played 112 Tests for New Zealand, lost a sponsorship with Land Rover over the incident, which dented his image as one of rugby’s most marketable players.

The athlete was pulled over and breathalysed in Paris’ chic 17th arrondissement and returned a reading showing a level of 0.87mg/l, which would normally see a driver lose six points from their licence.

“It would not seem necessary, given the slight gravity of the facts, to pronounce a prison sentence,” the document from October reads.

“Much as I’d love to say I’ve moved on from it, it’s something I’m going to have to live with for the rest of my life,” Carter said in October.

“It actually made me feel sick and it makes me feel sick now, thinking and talking about it.

Carter will leave Racing 92 and sign a two-year contract with Japanese club Kobelco Steelers at the end of the season.

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World Rugby CEO Brett Gosper defends controversial French Rugby President Bernard Laporte

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World Rugby CEO: Brett Gosper

Brett Gosper, CEO of World Rugby, has leapt to the defence of controversial French Rugby President Bernard Laporte.

Laporte last month launched a stinging public attack on World Rugby’s bid process for the 2023 Rugby World Cup describing the governing body’s evaluation of the three host nations (South Africa, France and Ireland) as “laughable”, “nonsense” and “incompetence.”

“He (Laporte) made some comments when the report came out but we’ve had discussions since and he did apologise for the comments that he made,” Gosper revealed to Sport360° exclusively at the launch of the Asia Under 17s Girls Sevens at Sports City on Thursday.

Despite calling Laporte’s comments “unacceptable”, Gosper stopped short of admitting that the former Toulon coaches’ attempts at undermining the bid process had ultimately succeeded.

“He’s a very passionate guy,” explained Gosper, “they (France) were very committed and sure of their dossier, so what he said, although in form probably wasn’t acceptable, he explained himself – and they’ve come through that process now and been successful.”

The highly regarded sports administrator denied the controversy had “tarnished” rugby’s image.

“I wouldn’t say its tarnished the sport, I think it’s all part of the passion that’s in the game. It would have been preferable if he (Laporte) kept the comments lower key but that’s how it was.”

Gosper said Laporte’s actions had not discredited the bid process, despite the recommended host South Africa being passed over in favour of Laporte’s French bid.

All smiles after France won right to stage 2023 World Cup: Bernard Laporte

All smiles after France won right to stage 2023 World Cup: Bernard Laporte.

“I think they (the bid nations) all played by the rules,” he stated. “Yes there was a recommendation that was given by Rugby World Cup Board based on what technically our scoring system provided (was) the best scoring of any of the candidates.

“Then you pass that on in the form of recommendation to the (World Rugby) Council. The Council has a slightly different prism in which they look at things and what is in their Union’s interest.”

Gosper said that the defining element for the Council, comprised of representatives of the sports top playing nations and confederations, was not the technically best bid but which offered the possibility of the greatest financial reward for the participating Unions.

“There’s no question that the French were at a high level particularly in the finance area,” Gosper said, “and we (World Rugby) weighted the finance probably not as strong as the Council who voted for the ultimate winner.”

He said France however were well-placed to host their second Rugby World Cup.

“We’ve got a great winner,” Gosper finished, “disappointing for both Ireland and South Africa who did remarkable bids. All three of these potential hosts could have been hosts and as it turned out France won it.”

The bid process has been heavily criticised and already the World Rugby Chairman, Bill Beaumont, has suggested there will be changes for the selection of the host of RWC 2027.

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