UAE easily through to Asia Rugby Sevens Trophy semi-finals, where tough Thailand test awaits

Matt Jones 4/08/2018
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Luke Stevenson leads the UAE in Singapore.

Thailand once again stand between the UAE and success in the sevens arena with Apollo Perelini and Co facing their nemesis in the semi-finals of the Asia Rugby Sevens Trophy on Sunday.

The UAE blitzed the competition in Pool B on Saturday, conceding just 10 points and scoring 129 in three massive wins over Nepal, Indonesia and Jordan in Singapore.

That included an eight try haul, made up of two hat-tricks, for exciting Jebel Ali Dragons’ all-purpose Fijian back Niko Volavola.

Perelini’s charges started with a flourish – Nepal blown away 48-0 at the Queenstown Stadium, with Dragons livewire Volavola helping himself to his first treble.

In addition to Volavola’s scores, the UAE ran in five more tries, with Kinivilame Natuna, Luke Stevenson, Jaen Botes, Sean Carey and Walid Al Balooshi going over in a one-sided affair.

Perelini’s players didn’t have to exert themselves much in their other two outings either, beating Indonesia 45-5 in their second game and Jordan 36-5 in their final game of the day.

Volavola ran in another hat-trick against Indonesia, with Natuna adding a brace, while Tuivione and Andrew Powell grabbed one score each.

He then added two more in the Jordan triumph, as did Emosi Ratuvanacua, with Stevenson and Powell also crossing.

“We’re pretty happy with how today went,” said captain Stevenson.

“The quality of teams we were playing weren’t really the best to be honest but it’s the first time the boys have played a game together so we can take positives from that. There’s a few things we need to work on which we’ve spoken about this evening in order to improve upon tomorrow.”

The real test awaits on Sunday, with Thailand the scourge of the UAE in recent tournaments.

They have fallen to them in each of the last two campaigns, and at the same stage too. At last year’s inaugural Trophy tournament, they suffered a narrow 19-17 defeat, while in the 2016 Asia Rugby Development Sevens Series, they were downed 22-10 at the last four stage.

A coveted place in the top tier Asia Sevens Series tournament awaits the champion in Singapore and Stevenson says he and his teammates are aware of the step up in class that awaits them on Sunday, though they are ready.

“We’ve got Thailand in the semi-final who look strong and they’ve been training for about a year,” added the Abu Dhabi Harlequins fly-half.

“They look fast and fit so it’ll be a pretty good test for us, but we’re confident. A few of the boys have stood up and it’s nice for us western boys playing with these Fijians instead of running around after them.

“We’re enjoying it and playing the rugby we like. Hopefully we can build on it on Sunday. If we win we’ll play the winner of Singapore and Kazakhstan. Hopefully there’s something good to come. We’ll get up and hopefully we can put in a shift and come back with the cup.”

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UAE hope to forget Asia Rugby Championship frustration by earning Asian Sevens Series promotion

Matt Jones 3/08/2018
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Apollo Perelini and the UAE are in Singapore for the Asia Sevens Series this weekend.

Apollo Perelini wants his UAE players to take the disappointment of missing out on representing their adopted nation at this year’s Asia Rugby Championship out on their opponents at the Asia Rugby Sevens Trophy in Singapore this weekend.

The UAE Rugby Federation withdrew the 15s team out of the ARC earlier this year, meaning Perelini and his players didn’t get the chance to rectify their three losses in Malaysia last May to the hosts as well as the Philippines and Sri Lanka.

Despite finishing bottom of the Division I table in Ipoh in 2017, the UAE were spared relegation. Players and coaches had been looking forward to putting in an improved showing this year but were told that the UAE would not be sending a team to the tournament.

No reason has been given for this decision.

But the UAE will take to take to the field in Singapore this weekend as Perelini has brought a 12-man squad to Asia Rugby’s second-tier competition, the Asia Sevens Trophy.

The UAE will play Jordan, Nepal and Indonesia in Pool B during Saturday’s opening day, with the knockouts to follow at the Queenstown Stadium on Sunday.

And Perelini admits his players – whose 15s players only featured in one friendly game against Gibraltar in Dubai in April – are keen to make up for lost time.

Luke Stevenson will captain the UAE in Singapore.

Luke Stevenson will captain the UAE in Singapore.

“We definitely feel this is the most important tournament for us. We were omitted from the 15s tournament this year and we want to get back into the action and the top flight competitions,” said the UAE coach.

“This is the best stepping stone for the UAE to get there. We are definitely, definitely going for the win, we are targeting the title.

“We feel it’s very, very important as the winners go through to the Asian Sevens Series, which is still a three-leg series that we’ve played in before. We want to be in there next year.”

Besides providing a chance for the players to exert their frustration after the furore over their withdrawal from the ARC, the weekend is also an opportunity for the UAE to very much get their sevens programme back on track.

Win in Singapore and they will be back at the shortened format of the game’s top table in Asia, the Asian Sevens Series.

They have not featured there for three years, having narrowly failed to attain senior status in 2015. Up to then the UAE featured regularly at the tri annual series’ legs, but only via invites.

Success in Singapore, however, guarantees the winner a place in the series for next year – with the teams for this year’s top tier competition already decided.

China, Chinese Taipei, Hong Kong, Malaysia, South Korea, Sri Lanka, the Philippines and reigning champions Japan will contest the 2018 series, to be held in Hong Kong and South Korea next month with the final round taking place in Colombo in October.

And joining the elite is at the front of Perelini’s thinking this weekend.

“The team is strong, the boys are looking forward to it and we really want to get into the top flight,” he added.

“Thailand are probably favourites as we just lost to them last year in the semi-finals of the same competition. Singapore are up there too but we beat them in the third/fourth-place play-off so we’re confident.

“The squad has been training since mid-June and we have a very strong squad. Five Fijians with three locals and British guys.

“We’ve been training very well. One of the main things we’ve been concentrating on is the fitness element of our game as we’re naturally skillful boys. But the fitness in sevens has to be spot on so the intensity of our training over the last two months has been high.”

The UAE begin their campaign against Nepal at 10:28 local time (06:28 UAE).

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Sean Carey and the UAE head to Singapore looking to get back into Asia Rugby Sevens Series

Matt Jones 1/08/2018
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Sean Carey hopes the UAE can get back into the top bracket in terms of Asia Rugby's sevens scene.

Sean Carey puts it simply when it comes to the UAE’s ambitions at this year’s Asia Rugby Sevens Trophy – it’s a “must-win” tournament.

Apollo Perelini takes his charges to Singapore this weekend for the Trophy, as the country look to climb their way back into the top tier of the continent’s sevens rugby scene.

It’s an arena they have not featured in since 2015, having been left to fend for themselves in the backwaters of Asia’s rugby wilderness – along with the likes of Nepal and Bangladesh.

In 2016 in Chennai they fell to Thailand in the semi-finals. Last year they fell at the same stage, to the same opponents. The Thais will likely once again be the main danger to the UAE this weekend, with Perelini’s men determined to be crowned kings at the Queenstown Stadium.

“There’s no other way to go about it, it’s a must-win tournament,” said Dubai Eagles fly-half Carey.

“Last year we were disappointed with the same competition, we lost in the semis to Thailand so we’d like to go one better this year and go all the way and win it. It’s very important I think we win this so we get into the Asia Sevens Series, it would really boost rugby in the region.

“We are looking forward to it. Another trip with the UAE, we’re getting to see a lot of nice countries with the rugby.

“But we’re very focused this time around, the training has been a lot harder this year. To win will really give us a boost, even the 15s side going to the Asia Rugby Championship next year.

“The Malaysia trip (the UAE lost all three of their 2017 ARC Division I fixtures upon re-entering the second tier) was disappointing so it would be nice to get some silverware.”

A squad of 12 took off from Dubai on Wednesday night, with Dubai Hurricanes’ Andrew Powell, Dubai Exiles’ Jaen Botes and Abu Dhabi Harlequins’ Luke Stevenson, along with Carey, part of that side that endured that miserable trip to Malaysia last May.

The UAE have been drawn in Pool B in Singapore, alongside Jordan, Nepal and Indonesia. They play the group games on Saturday, with the knockouts to follow on Sunday.

01 08 UAE Rugby

Carey is confident the UAE can achieve success in Singapore and regain parity with the likes of Malaysia, Sri Lanka, the Philippines, China and Chinese Taipei, as well as the giants of Asia, like Hong Kong, South Korea and Japan, in the main series.

“The squad is good, we’ve got a lot of Fijian boys from (Jebel Ali) Dragons and Quins and Jaen who is a big lump,” added the Irishman.

“Kiwi (Powell) and my experience from last year and Luke captaining the side really brings a different dynamic to it. Even the Emirati guys who are coming, Walid (Al Balooshi) and Saeed (Al Maheiri), have come on a lot over the last year and they’ll have the experience of having played in it before so I think they can come in and do a job for us.

“I’m quietly confident we will go and win it but we’ll take it very seriously and focus on getting in and out and getting the job done.

“It’s going to be hot, humid and wet, a bit cooler than here, but we’ve been used to doing fitness here in the heat and pre-season is going well. Luckily I’ve been doing a bit of work before getting called up so I’m not in bad shape.”

UAE squad:

Andrew Powell, Emosi Ratuvanacua, Hassan Al Noobi, Jaen Botes, Kinivilame Natuna, Luke Stevenson, Niko Volavola, Saeed Al Maheiri, Sean Carey, Sirilo Laladidi, Vito Tuivione, Walid Al Balooshi

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