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.
“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).
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.
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.”
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
Fresh from the success of the 2018 PRO14 Final in Dublin that saw a new record attendance set for the third year in a row, Glasgow will play host as the Championship decider returns to Scotland for the first time since 2016.
After the first PRO14 season brought about increased attendances and audiences across broadcast and social media, the move to host the Final at Celtic Park will ensure that fans new and old can experience the thrill that the Championship decider delivers every season.
With a capacity of 60,832 Celtic Park is known for football, but also hosted athletics and cycling when the site opened in 1892 and today holds a reputation for providing some of the most colourful and passionate atmospheres in all of sport.
On the big day itself, Premier Sports will also be the host broadcaster capturing all of the action that will be seen around the world.
Martin Anayi, CEO of PRO14 Rugby, said: “Bringing our Final to a world-famous stadium like Celtic Park is a truly historic step in the evolution of the PRO14.
“Since introducing Destination Final venues in 2015 we have seen the event thrive by making it about fans of rugby and not just the supporters of the two teams competing for the trophy.
“The bid put forward by Scottish Rugby, Celtic FC and the City of Glasgow was compelling from the very beginning and we’re certain that fans across the PRO14 will share in our excitement.
“Glasgow has so much to offer in terms of hospitality, culture and heritage and like our previous Finals in Dublin, Edinburgh and Belfast we can offer fans so much more than just a rugby experience.
“In the past number of seasons we have made many bold decisions which have transformed the PRO14 for the better and the choice of Celtic Park as the venue for the 2019 Final is yet another signal of our ambition to provide the best club rugby tournament possible for our clubs and our fans.”
Dominic McKay, Chief Operating Officer of Scottish Rugby and PRO14 Board Director, said: “I’m delighted we’ve been able to secure the 2019 PRO14 Final for the city of Glasgow, which will see the showpiece event played at Celtic Park, an iconic football ground in the west of Scotland.
“We hosted an outstanding Final for the Championship in Edinburgh two years ago and I’m delighted that we will be able to build on this in a city where rugby is really taking off thanks to Glasgow Warriors and our local rugby clubs.
“Rugby was a huge success in Glasgow for the 2014 Commonwealth Games, while Rugby Park and Pittodrie have also been great venues for Autumn Test matches over the years.
“This announcement is another great example of the sports working together.”
Peter Lawwell, CEO of Celtic FC, said: “We are very proud that the PRO14 Final is coming to Celtic Park for what we’re sure will be a fabulous occasion for the city of Glasgow, rugby supporters and for Celtic.
“Celtic Park is a world-class venue and our success of hosting events in the 2014 Commonwealth games and on Champions League nights where we have welcomed some of the biggest names in world football, proves that the stadium can produce unforgettable experiences time after time.
“We look forward to welcoming rugby fans from far and wide to Paradise on May 25 to share in the atmosphere of Celtic Park, we are sure it is an experience they will enjoy immensely.”
Fast facts about Celtic Park
+ Home of Celtic Football Club, Celtic Park is Scotland’s biggest football stadium with a capacity of 60,832.
+ The highest attendance at a match within the stadium was against Rangers in 1938 with an attendance of 92,000.
+ Fondly known as Paradise to fans, Celtic Park boasts over 50,000 season tickets holders as well as millions of fans worldwide.
+ Proud host venue of Glasgow 2018, Commonwealth Games Opening Ceremony, Celtic Park is a premier destination for visitors and events.
+ In 2016 Celtic Park were first in the UK to introduce rail seating section in the stadium.
Fast facts about the PRO14 Final
Destination Final Attendances
2018: Aviva Stadium, Dublin – 46,092 (record)
2017: Aviva Stadium, Dublin – 45,556 (record)
2016: Murrayfield, Edinburgh – 34,500 (record)
2015: Kingspan Stadium, Belfast – 17,500 (sell out)
2014: RDS Arena, Dublin (Leinster) – 19,200 (sell out)
2013: RDS Arena, Dublin (Ulster) – 19,200 (sell out)
2012: RDS Arena, Dublin (Leinster) – 18,500 (sell out)
2011: Thomond Park, Limerick (Munster) – 26,100 (sell out)
2010: RDS Arena, Dublin (Leinster) – 19,500 (sell out)
2018 Final at glance
New record of total points scored: 72
New record of total tries scored: 9
Johnny McNicholl (Scarlets) – First player to score a hat-trick in a Final
Sean Cronin (Leinster) – First player to score in three Finals
Jordan Larmour (Leinster) – Youngest ever try scorer in a Final at 20 years 350 days