The UAE romped their way to success at to the Asia Rugby Sevens Trophy, convincingly coming home with the trophy and the knowledge that they will play Asian Sevens Series rugby later this year.
The standard of opposition wasn’t the most scintillating in Singapore, but Apollo Perelini’s men beat the two best sides at the tournament apart from themselves – the hosts and Thailand – to reign supreme in the second tier of sevens.
It will now allow them to tangle once again with Asia’s top teams – including Japan, China, Hong Kong, Malaysia, the Philippines, South Korea and Sri Lanka – after a three-year hiatus.
By virtue of winning the Cup section in Singapore, the UAE will join the other seven nations in the three-legged series which begins in Hong Kong next month.
The opening leg of the 2018 tournament will be played between September 14-15; the second in Korea from September 29-30 and the third in Colombo, Sri Lanka, from October 13-14.
“Hard work pays off,” said a delighted Jaen Botes after the Dubai Exiles powerhouse helped the UAE defeat the hosts 14-0 in Sunday’s final.
“On to the next chapter and I’m excited to keep working on achieving milestones. It’s been a great few days with great people. I’m proud to represent the UAE.”
The UAE regularly tussled with the continent’s finest up until 2015. But they would always receive invites to play in the Series rather than earn the right to feature outright. They narrowly avoided automatic qualification two years ago and have since had to play in the second-tier Trophy.
They had lost previously in the semi-finals to Thailand last year and in the last four of the Development Sevens Series in Al Ain in 2016 to the same opposition.
But the Thais were swept aside on Sunday in the semis, the UAE setting up a final showdown with Singapore thanks to a convincing 26-0 victory.
Abu Dhabi Harlequins’ fly-half Luke Stevenson scored two tries and potted two conversions while there was also a ninth try of the weekend for Jebel Ali Dragons danger man Niko Volavola. Kinivilame Natuna also crossed in a convincing win.
It was a tighter affair in the final at Queenstown Stadium, but the UAE sealed a monumental triumph with scores from Stevenson and Natuna again, with the Quins man adding the extras.
It may have been against largely inferior opposition but there were no hiccups for Perelini and his players who conceded just 10 points in five matches all weekend – while scoring an aggregate of 169 themselves.
Volavola’s haul had included hat-tricks in a 48-0 blowout of Nepal in their Pool B opener and another in the 45-5 triumph over Indonesia.
Jordan were also beaten 36-5 on Saturday to set up a showdown with their nemesis, Thailand.
But two years of misery was replaced by victory as the UAE progressed to the final, where they held their nerve to earn promotion to the elite level.
Eddie Jones insists he is powerless to transform the English system, saying: “I’m not Alexander the Great.”
Unions oversee the domestic provinces with the vast majority of England’s major international rivals, enabling them to set the players’ salaries, workload and position on the pitch.
But in the Gallagher Premiership and French Top 14, clubs retain control of the players and often have conflicting interests that lead to less joined-up thinking.
“I’m not Alexander the Great. This structure has been set up for years and you’re expecting a little Aussie like me to break it in three years,” England head coach Jones said.
“Unless you break it there will be no change, but I can’t control it and am happy to work with what we have.
“We can have discussions about what position a player should play, but the coaches get paid to make their clubs win.
“It’s not like the provinces in New Zealand or Australia or South Africa where they have a responsibility to the national team.
“That’s the structure and we work with it. We’ve got a responsibility to work with the clubs and we do that to a large extent. There’s always conflict, but we’ve established good relationships.”
England were exposed at the breakdown during the Six Nations and recent tour to South Africa, largely because of the way it is approached and refereed on these shores.
Jones, however, has no say in how the game is officiated and what tactics clubs should use.
“It’s not my job to influence how the Premiership is played and I don’t think they would welcome it,” Jones said.
“The only thing I can affect is how the breakdown’s refereed in the international game and there are ongoing discussions with coaches and referees about that.”
England’s next assignment is a brutal autumn series against South Africa, New Zealand, Japan and Australia.
The UAE blitzed the competition in Pool B on Saturday, conceding just 10 points and scoring 129 in three massive wins over Nepal, Indonesia and Jordan in Singapore.
That included an eight try haul, made up of two hat-tricks, for exciting Jebel Ali Dragons’ all-purpose Fijian back Niko Volavola.
Perelini’s charges started with a flourish – Nepal blown away 48-0 at the Queenstown Stadium, with Dragons livewire Volavola helping himself to his first treble.
In addition to Volavola’s scores, the UAE ran in five more tries, with Kinivilame Natuna, Luke Stevenson, Jaen Botes, Sean Carey and Walid Al Balooshi going over in a one-sided affair.
Perelini’s players didn’t have to exert themselves much in their other two outings either, beating Indonesia 45-5 in their second game and Jordan 36-5 in their final game of the day.
Volavola ran in another hat-trick against Indonesia, with Natuna adding a brace, while Tuivione and Andrew Powell grabbed one score each.
He then added two more in the Jordan triumph, as did Emosi Ratuvanacua, with Stevenson and Powell also crossing.
“We’re pretty happy with how today went,” said captain Stevenson.
“The quality of teams we were playing weren’t really the best to be honest but it’s the first time the boys have played a game together so we can take positives from that. There’s a few things we need to work on which we’ve spoken about this evening in order to improve upon tomorrow.”
The real test awaits on Sunday, with Thailand the scourge of the UAE in recent tournaments.
They have fallen to them in each of the last two campaigns, and at the same stage too. At last year’s inaugural Trophy tournament, they suffered a narrow 19-17 defeat, while in the 2016 Asia Rugby Development Sevens Series, they were downed 22-10 at the last four stage.
A coveted place in the top tier Asia Sevens Series tournament awaits the champion in Singapore and Stevenson says he and his teammates are aware of the step up in class that awaits them on Sunday, though they are ready.
“We’ve got Thailand in the semi-final who look strong and they’ve been training for about a year,” added the Abu Dhabi Harlequins fly-half.
“They look fast and fit so it’ll be a pretty good test for us, but we’re confident. A few of the boys have stood up and it’s nice for us western boys playing with these Fijians instead of running around after them.
“We’re enjoying it and playing the rugby we like. Hopefully we can build on it on Sunday. If we win we’ll play the winner of Singapore and Kazakhstan. Hopefully there’s something good to come. We’ll get up and hopefully we can put in a shift and come back with the cup.”