The UAE’s preparations for the Asia Rugby Championships next month took another positive step forward with a 36-24 victory over the Conference Barbarians at the Sevens Stadium last night.
Four emphatic tries in the last 20 minutes sealed the win for Apollo Perelini’s side and they will go into their final warm-up game confident against a strong Premiership XV next Friday before departing for Malaysia.
Handling errors and some general unfamiliarity playing together restricted this from being an exciting and fluent contest, but there were periods of thrilling rugby in a game that produced 10 tries.
The Barbarians’ tactics were effective in the opening quarter, and it didn’t take them long to get the scoreboard ticking, with two quick tries that saw them open up a 12-0 lead.
Niko Volavola was at the centre, intercepting a loose ball to dance in from 22 metres for the first try and then feeding off some neat passing from James Elliott and Kyle Bennie to touch down for the second after 20 minutes.
But back came UAE, and after a huge defensive effort from the Barbarians, Luke Stevenson spread the ball wide to Scott Hayes who sprinted in unopposed from 30 metres.
After the restart, UAE set the contest alight with some threatening carries, then Ed Lewsey found some space after a multi-phase move to burrow over in the corner. Stevenson converted to level.
But that was the nearest UAE came to the Barbarians’ line for the rest of the quarter.
It was all the Barbarians way, and another intercept saw the elusive Volavola accelerate in to complete his hat-trick.
Three minutes later, they came rumbling through the middle again and Mike Jasko drove over for a converted try to make it 24-12.
However, UAE produced a swift response in the final quarter as the Barbarians appeared to wilt with Daniel Perry touching down under the posts. Stevenson nailed the conversion to cut the deficit to five.
With nine minutes to go, Sean Carey made the break of the game to open up the Barbarians defence with Daniel Bell paving the way to send Walid Al Balooshi over.
UAE put the squeeze on the Barbarians again, with a well-worked line-out culminating in Josh Ives crossing the line for the ninth try.
Just minutes later, UAE went further in front as a quick Barbarians line-out spilled loose and Rikus Swart skipped in under the posts to complete the scoring.
Conference Barbarians coach Robbie Cameron said: “What impressed me about the UAE is that they won the game in the last 10-15 minutes when a lot of teams might not have. They wanted it.
“That last period is crucial in any game, no matter the score. They pushed hard and they have an exceptionally good coach in Apollo too to guide them forward.”
Apollo Perelini says he has been hugely encouraged by the hunger being shown by his UAE squad despite the fact the domestic rugby season in the Emirates is over.
The 2016/17 campaign culminated with the UAE Rugby Finals Day at Dubai Sports City on April 7, but a select few will be heading east to Malaysia as the UAE look to win the Asia Rugby Championship’s Division II.
Perelini has been training with his squad since the first few weeks of 2017 but his players will get their first test tomorrow (Friday) when the face a UAE Conference XV at The Sevens.
And despite being near the end of a long, arduous season and with the temperatures in the Emirates starting to rise as summer approaches, Perelini says there has been no sign of slacking from his 32-man squad.
“They’ve been so keen. You can tell by the attitude, there’s a bit of swagger about them and they’re a close group,” said the New Zealander.
“Right from the word go they were able to bond even though they were playing against each other for their clubs. To train over the time, they’ve got a really nice bond and the camaraderie amongst them is excellent.
“Like I said before we’re stronger than last year. We have some of the top players in the Premiership in the squad and putting them together has been a pleasure and quite enjoyable for me and my coaching staff.
“But We won’t really know how far we’ve come until we’ve played the game against the Conference side.”
And he’s expecting a tough test against the best the Conference has to offer.
“I’m hoping it’s a really good test,” he said.
“I’ve asked the coaches to pick the best players and I hope it’s a really good game for our build-up for the tournament. We’re going to use it to see how our systems have come on, how they get used to them and how we play under pressure.”
Five of Perelini’s current roster will be dropped after their second friendly, against a Premiership XV next Friday, as the former dual-code star trims his touring party to 27.
And the former dual code Samoa international admits culling five players will be tough.
“There’s a few players I haven’t seen enough of,” he added.
“They’ve not played enough games for clubs so I want to give them a chance and these two games are a chance to show me what they can do.”
Preparations are well underway for next month's trip to Asia but first Apollo Perelini's side contest two tough friendly outings against a UAE Conference Select XV at The Sevens on Friday, before facing a UAE Premiership Select XV next week in Sharjah.
The UAE have been training twice a week in the build up to these matches, with Bolger set to lead the team as captain in Malaysia.
Sport360 caught up with the squad as they fine tuned their skills in Dubai.