UAE Rugby announce 25-man squad for Asia Rugby Championship Division II series

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Dubai Exiles' Charlie Sargent has capped a fine season with a UAE call-up

Ryno Fourie treasures every opportunity he has to represent his “second home” of the UAE and believes it’s about time they brought home some silverware.

The South African was yesterday named in UAE performance manager Apollo Perelini’s 25-man squad for the Asia Rugby Championship (ARC) series taking place in Uzbekistan later this month.

The UAE will try to go a step further than they did a year ago and earn promotion from Division II to Division I as they slowly inch themselves back towards Asia rugby’s top table.

The ARC replaced the old Asian Five Nations in 2015 and saw the UAE compete in Division II having been relegated from Division I via a 30-13 defeat to Singapore a year earlier.

They performed admirably last year, defeating Thailand and Chinese Taipei, but agonisingly missed out on promotion following a narrow 20-19 loss to hosts Malaysia.

Jebel Ali Dragons' Imad Reyal will bring craft to the back line

Jebel Ali Dragons’ Imad Reyal will bring craft to the back line

Fourie says this year’s squad is determined not to miss out again.

“I have been involved in the international circuit for a long time and feel confident that this will be the year to bring back some silverware,” said the 34-year-old Jebel Ali Dragons full-back.

“There is a nice buzz among the players. Every year the competition in the clubs and players is improving which is definitely a step in the right direction for UAE rugby.

“Apollo had some tough decisions to make this year in selecting 25 players as everyone at training is quality and all played Premiership rugby. I think he has selected the best possible team to represent us in Uzbekistan.”

Fourie first pulled on the UAE jersey in 2011 and is one of several players picked after impressive performances for the national sevens team in the Asia Rugby Sevens Series (ARSS) during the last 12 months.

Abu Dhabi Saracens No8 Jaen Botes made his UAE debut on last year's tour

Abu Dhabi Saracens No8 Jaen Botes made his UAE debut on last year’s tour

“It has always been a honor for me to play for the UAE, from the start, since 2011,” added Fourie.

“I am passionate about the game and will treasure every moment and opportunity to represent my second home.

“A lot of the sevens players have also pushed on from the last tour to play 15s, with the likes of Niall Statham, Imad Reyal, Jaen Botes, Ian Overton and myself  having built good friendships on and off the field.”

Fellow Dragon Statham will lead the team in their semi-final tie against the Uzbeks on May 18 and hopefully into the final three days later against either Guam or Thailand after being named captain by Perelini, something he did during the ARSS.

The Scotsman, like Fourie, is also confident of success.

“I’m delighted to be selected and it’s a huge honour to captain both sides,” said the 30-year-old flanker.

“There are some great players in the side so it’s a privilege to lead them, I’m really confident we can achieve promotion.”

Abu Dhabi Harlequins’ lynchpin Ben Bolger will act as vice captain in what will be his first foray into international rugby with the UAE.

Welshman Ian Overton starred for UAE's sevens side this season

Welshman Ian Overton starred for the UAE’s sevens side this season

UAE's Asia History

  • The UAE first competed in the top tier Asian Five Nations in 2011, winning one, drawing one and losing two, including a 111-0 defeat to Japan
  • A year later they won once and lost three, including another heavy 106-3 loss to Japan
  • In 2013 they lost all four games, including their now customary hammering - 93-3 - by Japan

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#360rugby: EPCR final preview, Perelini raising UAE skills

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A round up of rugby action, domestic and international, this week.

Ahead of two mouth-watering Anglo-French European cup finals, Sport360’s rugby experts look at the players to watch and who will likely come out on top.

What are your thoughts? Tweet us using #360rugby to join the debate.

EPCR FINAL WILL BE A SPECTACLE OF POWER, NOT BEAUTY

On 14th May Saracens will meet Racing in the European Champions Cup final and no one can argue with the fact that these two teams have been the best by some distance.

It is no coincidence therefore that both teams employ a similar brand of rugby, where aesthetically pleasing backs moves take a backseat to power and organised defence.

That is not to say it will not be an enthralling, encapsulating arm wrestle of a match with plenty of firepower to keep the crowd at Lyon satisfied. It is still a European final between the capital cities of old foes England and France, after all.

If the prospect of Dan Carter playing against Owen Farrell (if the latter comes out the right side of the citing commissioner), Joe Rokocoko taking on Chris Ashton and Chris Masoe doing battle with Billy Vunipola at the base of the scrum doesn’t excite a rugby fan, then nothing ever will.

The Londoners have now contested four semi-finals in four years and it will be their second final, meaning they have more experience and the favourites tag going into the game.

CHALLENGE CUP A BATTLE OF CONTRASTING STYLES

If there is a similarity of styles between in the main competition, the Challenge Cup match up between Montpellier and Harlequins is chalk and cheese.

The influence of Montpellier’s formidable band of Springboks is evident in their style of play. Harlequins can expect a tight and brutal contest around the ruck as well as an aerial examination of their back three.

Conor O’Shea’s men will play with the same attacking flair and instinctive, offloading game that saw them thrash Grenoble so convincingly in the semi-finals.

Welsh battering ram Jamie Roberts will look to put his team on the front foot, creating space for the likes of Mike Brown and Marland Yarde to create havoc in the outside channels.

The rugby purists will hope that the Londoner’s endevours with ball in hand will be rewarded with a fourth Challenge Cup title, but with Montpellier’s superior power it is difficult to see anything other than a win for the French side.

SUNWOLVES FINALLY HAVE SOMETHING TO SMILE ABOUT

It may have been against an out-of-sorts Jaguares side, but the Sunwolves’ first win in Super Rugby was the toast of Tokyo last weekend.

Following a 92-17 humiliation at the claws of the Cheethas last week, the critics were circling the Japanese Super Rugby debutants like, er, wolves.

However Mark Hammett’s men dusted themselves down and are now off the bottom of the table following a hard-fought 36-28 victory.

Samoan fly-half Tusi Pisi was a just recipient of his Man of the Match award, orchestrating his midfielders into space with ease, and contributing 18-points with the boot.

Delays in finalising a playing squad (and coach) have meant a tough start to life in Super Rugby for the Sunwolves but the team and its passionate fans will hope to build some momentum heading into the end of season run in.

PERELINI RAISING UAE RUGBY EXPECTATIONS AHEAD OF UZBEKISTAN SERIES

Former dual code Samoa international Apollo Perelini is putting UAE rugby through a grueling six-week training regime in a bid to improve standards ahead of the Asia Rugby Championship (ARC) series.

The 46-year-old has been focusing on skill levels in his initial sessions and is adamant all players need to be on par with one another.

“It doesn’t matter whether you’re a front rower, second rower, a winger or fly-half, you all have the same responsibility. You all want to have the same skill level across the park,” said Perelini.

“My philosophy is when you’re on the field, you’re all rugby players. Irrespective of where you play you all have to have the same skill-sets. I want them to be a ball player, I want my forwards to be just as skillful as any back.”

Perelini’s UAE will warm up for ARC Division II games against Singapore, Guam and Uzbekistan in May with a friendly against a UAE Premiership Barbarians team, coached by Dubai Exiles’ Jacques Benade.

HURRICANE LOOKING TO LAUNCH INTERNATIONAL CAREER WITH UAE

It might be the time of year when sport in the UAE starts to die down, but Daniel Perry insists there will be no let up from the national rugby next month’s Asia Rugby Championship (ARC) Division II campaign.

The Dubai Hurricanes captain arrived in the UAE from Morecambe in May 2012 and just missed out on UAE selection for their trip to Malaysia 12 months ago. There, the UAE narrowly missed out on promotion back to Asia Rugby’s second tier.

Having now passed his UAE three-year residency rule, Perry is determined to make the squad, especially after a disappointing club season with Canes.

This year coach Perelini has been putting around 35 players through their paces at The Sevens and Jebel Ali Centre of Excellence and will cull the group to a 25-man touring squad in the coming days.

EXTRA TIME

If Saracens were in any doubt as to the size of the task ahead of them in the EPCR final, they need not look any further than the impact of Racing number eight Chris Masoe. Against Leicester, the former All Black was in full beast mode. Just ask Graham Kitchener or Freddie Burns.

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Itoje stars as Saracens book place in Champions Cup final

Sport360 staff 24/04/2016
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Maro Itoje in action against Wasps.

Victory kept Premiership leaders Saracens on course for a domestic and European double.

The London club will now play the winners of Sunday’s second semi-final between Leicester and Paris-based Racing 92 in the May 14 European final in Lyon.

Saracens dominated up front but could not shake Wasps off as they unusually squandered chances.

But Itoje told Sky Sports: “The resilience in the team and the quality of the person in the team helps us control games and come through difficult points in the match.”

Saracens, losing European finalists in 2014 and yet to win the continental title, led 8-7 at half-time after a charge-down try by Michael Rhodes and a penalty by Owen Farrell helped them recover after it took Wasps just 73 seconds to open the scoring through Dan Robson’s converted try.

Two more penalties by England goal-kicker Farrell and one from Gopperth followed.

Farrell kicked another penalty before a Saracens penalty try late on took them into a 24-10 lead.

There was still time for Wasps replacement Ashley Johnson to score a converted try but Saracens saw out the game.

The two sides had met twice in the Premiership this season, with Saracens winning 26-16 in December and Wasps enjoying a 64-23 rout in February — when several of Saracens’ England grand slam-winning stars were on Six Nations duty against Italy.

Wasps, the last English side to be crowned champions of Europe in 2007, lived up to their reputation for exciting rugby by catching Saracens cold with a scintillating try just over a minute into the match.

Gopperth and veteran Australia flanker George Smith worked a switch move that released express wing Christian Wade, who scored six tries in a Premiership match against Worcester last weekend.

Wade collected the ball on the halfway line and beat two men before his inside pass found scrum-half Robson, who in turn side-stepped his marker and went over.

Kiwi fly-half Gopperth, whose conversion with the last kick of the game sealed a dramatic quarter-final win over Exeter, added the extras and Wasps led 7-0.

Farrell then surprisingly pulled a 30-metre penalty wide of the posts.

Saracens, however were gaining ground through their forwards and their pressure was eventually rewarded when flanker Rhodes charged down Gopperth’s clearance kick for a 28th-minute try.

Farrell missed the conversion from out on the right and Wasps still led 7-5.

But a Wasps ruck offence on the stroke of half-time saw Farrell succeed with an easy penalty that gave Sarries an 8-7 lead at the break.

And when Smith infringed at a ruck early in the second period, Farrell punished Wasps with a successful penalty from just inside the half-way line.

Minutes later Farrell landed near 50-metre penalty and Saracens were 14-7 in front.

Saracens though were down to 14 men when Farrell was shown a yellow card in the 51st minute for a head-high tackle on Robson that eventually saw the Wasps No 9 taken off the field on a stretcher.

Gopperth kicked the resulting penalty and Saracens’ lead had been cut to 14-10.

Haskell was involved in some shuddering collisions with England team-mates Billy Vunipola and Itoje up front.

Farrell, head bandaged after his clash with Robson, then missed a long-range penalty immediately upon his return from the sin-bin.

But he made no mistake from in front of the posts with 12 minutes left when Wasps replacement Simon McIntyre was sin-binned for kicking Itoje in the face.

Saracens, starving Wasps of possession, extended their with a 73rd-minute penalty try awarded after Wasps collapsed a maul that started from outside the 22.

Johnson then pounced after a good break by Elliot Daly but it was all too late for Wasps.

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