The UAE’s chances of promotion to Division I of the Asia Rugby Championship may have been enhanced following Kazakhstan’s withdrawal from this year’s series.
The Kazakhs, due to face Sri Lanka, the Philippines and Malaysia in Division I in Malaysia this week, pulled out a week before the tournament due to financial constraints. The country’s government said it was only funding sevens rugby as it is an Olympic sport, with the men’s 15s programme subsequently suspended.
As a result Kazakhstan’s women’s team have also pulled out of the Asia 3 Nations and will also miss the Women’s Rugby World Cup in Ireland next year.
Singapore, relegated from Division I last season, were due to take on Uzbekistan in Division II in Tashkent later this month, with the winner meeting either Apollo Perelini’s UAE or Guam on May 21.
They will now be re-instated to Division I, with Thailand taking their place in Division II.
The news was welcomed by Singapore, who were relegated to Division II following losses to the Philippines (20-17) and Kazakhstan (32-12). National team captain Gaspar Tan said the team is determined to make a strong return to the tournament.
“After dropping out of it last year, we were disappointed, and we intensified our training with the aim of getting back again,” said the 27-year-old.
“We have automatic promotion now, and we must aim to stay in Division I and perform better than last year. The target is to win at least two matches to remain there.”
On paper, at least, it looks like a decision that will benefit Perelini’s side, who are the second lowest ranked nation in Division II – currently 83rd in the World Rugby standings. Thailand (76th) and Guam (73rd) are both above them, with hosts Uzbekistan ranked 87th.
Division I is currently taking place in Kuala Lumpur with the tournament ending on Saturday.
The UAE fly to Tashkent the same day and will play Guam in a semi-final a week on Wednesday. Win that and they will face the winner of Uzbekistan and Thailand.
England head coach Eddie Jones has named eight uncapped players among a 26-man squad for a three-day training camp in Brighton.
The group includes Northampton’s New Zealand-born back-row forward Teimana Harrison, Sale Sharks back Mike Haley, London Irish wing Alex Lewington and Bath lock Charlie Ewels.
England captain Dylan Hartley is also part of the squad – as is Sale fly-half Danny Cipriani – as Jones prepares for a Twickenham clash against Wales on May 29, followed by next month’s three-Test Australia tour.
The camp takes place from May 17-19, with training at Brighton College. No players involved in the Aviva Premiership play-offs, which will be contested by Saracens, Leicester, Exeter and Wasps, were considered.
Jones said: “The Brighton training camp is a good opportunity for England to get together and train hard ahead of the Wales game and summer tour.
“While we will be without those players involved in the Premiership semi-finals, it’s crucial that we spend as much time together as possible. We have an important game at Twickenham at the end of the month, and then a challenging tour to Australia.
Great news 4 Danny Cipriani. Called into England training squad. He's worked so hard this season couldn't deserve his chance more. Well Done— Steve Black (@B1ackie) May 8, 2016
“It’s a challenge that really excites us, and we are looking forward to starting our preparation. There’s lots of hard work to be done if we are going to play with the intensity needed to beat southern hemisphere teams.
“We know the speed of the game in Australia will be considerably higher than the RBS Six Nations, so this short camp, as well as the preparation time ahead of Wales, is going to be vital to our progression.
“Tour places are still up for grabs, and I expect the players in this camp – as well as those involved in the play-offs – to continue to make their case for selection.”
England’s Twickenham appointment with Wales will see them back in action for the first time since a first Six Nations Grand Slam for 13 years, which was secured by a victory over France in Paris. England face Australia on three consecutive weekends, on June 11, June 18 and June 25.
Backs: M Brown (Harlequins), L Burrell (Northampton), D Care (Harlequins), D Cipriani (Sale Sharks), O Devoto (Bath), G Ford (Bath), J Joseph (Bath), M Haley (Sale Sharks), A Lewington (London Irish), S Rokoduguni (Bath), A Watson (Bath), M Yarde (Harlequins), M Young (Newcastle).
Forwards: D Attwood (Bath), K Brookes (Northampton), J Clifford (Harlequins), C Ewels (Bath), D Hartley (Northampton), T Harrison (Northampton), P Hill (Northampton), M Kvesic (Gloucester), C Lawes (Northampton), J Marler (Harlequins), C Robshaw (Harlequins), K Sinckler (Harlequins), T Taylor (Sale Sharks).
Apollo Perelini admits he has slight concerns over the lack of depth among his back division as he looks to select his 25-man squad for the Asia Rugby Championship (ARC).
UAE rugby’s performance manager is expected to announce his touring party on Monday and admitted following his side’s 48-29 friendly defeat to the UAE Premiership Barbarians on Wednesday that the hard work will then begin.
“I don’t have any glaring concerns but I don’t have a lot of back depth,” said the 46-year-old. “I’ve got a lot of forwards but, with my backs, I’m a bit shallow and I’ve got to address that.”
Defeat to a strong Baa Baas side did not worry the New Zealander, particularly as they were made up a large contingent of Premiership and west Asia champions Dubai Exiles.
The former dual-code Samoa star also feels his job will get easier once he selects his final squad as he will be able to work on a game-plan to earn promotion from Division II of the ARC with a firm roster.
“Now the hard work starts,” insists Perelini. “The last two or three weeks we’ve been sussing people out, who fits in. Now I know and have seen all the players playing I can really sit down and assess what I’ve got and put a squad together.
“At the moment it’s hard because I’m trying to find combinations among players, that too from just one game.”
Perelini admitted a few players stood out for him during a frenetic game, in which the Baa Baas only pulled away with three tries inside the final five minutes.
“I think our boys were a bit under pressure. They think they’ve got to impress the coach and the structure went out the window,” he said. “Sometimes there’s a fear. For our boys there’s a lot of pressure to get on this team. When that happens it’s more about looking after yourself.
“I said to them I wasn’t after the result, it’s about the process.”
Instead of a league format like 12 months ago, the four teams in Division II will meet in semi-final encounters on May 18, with the UAE to play hosts Uzbekistan. Thailand will play Guam. The winners will meet in May 21’s final.