Apollo Perelini could announce his 27-man UAE squad for the Asia Rugby Championship Division I tour to Malaysia today and he admits he will do so with great difficulty after a number of players impressed in Friday’s 35-15 victory over the Premiership Barbarians.
The UAE struggled initially in their first trial match against the Conference Barbarians a week ago before eventually winning 36-24 and had to again come back from a 10-0 deficit at Sharjah Wanderers Sports Club.
But they head to Malaysia in fine fettle following their two warm-up victories and Perelini is not relishing culling five names from his squad – with his squad possibly being revealed later today.
“There were a lot of good individuals,” said the New Zealander.
“I’ve got to cut the squad down in the next couple of days but I’ve picked up a few injuries I wasn’t anticipating, so I’ve got to look at the cover I’m going to need, but a lot of boys put their hands up last night which will make selection difficult.
“But it was always going to be difficult because there’s a lot of talent there. I thought Luke (Stevenson, Abu Dhabi Harlequins fly-half) really stepped up to the mark. He really controlled the game and took our boys around the field.”
Stern tests against the best of the Conference and Premiership were exactly what the former dual code Samoa star had asked for, and Perelini has enjoyed what he has seen from his players over the last two weeks.
“It was a good final preparation for Malaysia,” added Perelini, who will lead the UAE as they attempt to win Division I for a chance to play a playoff to get into the top tier ARC.
“The boys really fronted up and put into practice a lot of things we’ve been training on. Also there was a lot of buy-in from the team, considering the time we’ve had together. There’s a real attitude to play for each other.
“I want the boys to believe in what we’re doing. One thing was to challenge our attitude and character and the other thing was to get a buy-in to the team structure and how we want to play.
“The Barbarians team was a very good team. Lots of (good but) ineligible players. They played in the away strip of the UAE and it was quite nice, it was like two national teams going at it.
“It was a good night and they were well coached by Mike Wernham (Dubai Hurricanes head coach) and Mike McFarlane (Quins head coach). They had good experience and it was a great test.
“It was like a mock exam. We needed to find out what areas we can improve on and we did that against a really good team.”
They might have scraped through in their first trial match, but the UAE squad are not concerned by the fact they had to grind out victory against the Conference Barbarians last week.
Apollo Perelini’s charges were 14 points down at one stage and trailed by five heading into the final quarter at The Sevens before rallying late on to claim a 36-24 victory.
Their task only gets harder Friday as they face Mike McFarlane’s Premiership Barbarians at Sharjah Wanderers Sports Club but the players are relishing another stern test to prepare them for the 2017 Asia Rugby Championship series in Malaysia next month.
“I think we showed a lot of character in that game after trailing with 14 points at once stage,” said Jebel Ali Dragons winger Ryno Fourie.
“It’s always difficult playing these trial games as you play quarters with different combinations and tend to lose your momentum, however, I think we really started to get our structures right in the last 20 minutes. We wanted more and I think our fitness helped us close the game out.”
Perelini and his players will expect a tough game against McFarlane’s side – which will feature the likes of Quins duo Patrick Jenkinson and Andrew Semple and Dragons pair Matt Henry and Sakiusa Naisau.
But Fourie insists the players are not feeling forlorn after being pushed so close by their Conference counterparts.
“Going into the Premiership game will be another test for us and I feel we have to step it up a notch,” added the South African flyer.
“Apollo told us that he’s not concerned about the result but he is looking how we implement our structures. What also helped us prepare for this Friday’s game was a video session on the Baa Baa’s game to analyse where we could improve.
“All of us are gelling nicely and we will play for each other going forward. The Premiership players are the best in the region and we want to test ourselves against the best.”
His feelings are shared by compatriot Jaen Botes and Dubai Exiles captain Glenn Moore – who is hoping to have done enough over the two games and training sessions to earn a spot on the plane to Malaysia and a first cap for the UAE.
“I think we are confident that things will click for us if we can just get our set piece right and settle into our patterns a bit,” said Ulsterman Moore.
“Hopefully that first game has got rid of any nerves boys might have and we can just keep improving from here.”
For Botes, the Abu Dhabi Saracens’ man mountain of a Number 8, he sees no negatives from the manner of last week’s win and is just excited for the games ahead.
“We know that it will be a good challenge for us this weekend and we just want to improve on our last performance and look to set better standards,” he said.
“I’m excited and hope to improve on many things myself and I’m sure every person in camp has the same mentality. These are exciting times and it should be a good run around on the weekend.”
Abu Dhabi Harlequins coach Mike McFarlane will have some of the best players from around the UAE Premiership in his Premiership Barbarians XV squad as they prepare to offer a stern test to the UAE ahead of next month’s Asia Rugby Championship series.
Apollo Perelini’s men will face the Barbarians on Friday at Sharjah Wanderers Sports Club following the conclusion of the club’s annual Sharjah 10s tournament.
The side will provide a stern test ahead of Division I games against Malaysia, Sri Lanka and the Philippines – with the winner of the tournament offered a place in the promotion-relegation play-off to play against either Japan, South Korea or Hong Kong for a chance to climb into the top tier ARC next season.
The UAE were not at their best against the Conference Barbarians last week, with a late rally seeing them stir from a five point deficit in the final quarter of the game as they eventually won 36-24.
And it will only get harder this week, with the likes of Quins’ pair Andrew Semple and Patrick Jenkinson, Abu Dhabi Saracens prop Craig Nutt, Jebel Ali Dragons duo Matt Henry and Sakiusa Naisau and Dubai Hurricanes winger Ian Overton selected by McFarlane.
“It’s a great opportunity to work with some top players whilst giving the national team a good test,” said McFarlane, whose Quins side won an unprecedented five trophies this season.
“I’m sure some of the players in the Premiership select who qualify soon will want to show themselves in the best light possible and make a point for selection in the future.
“The over-arching goal is to ensure the national team have the best preparation as possible to be as successful as possible in the Asia Rugby Championship.”
Friday’s game kicks off at 19:00.