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).
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