For Apollo Perelini, selecting Abu Dhabi Harlequins talisman Ben Bolger in his 25-man UAE squad for the Asia Rugby Championship (ARC) was a no-brainer.
The 26-year-old is a natural leader on and off the field.
Vocal. Tenacious. A grafter. He’s exuded all of these traits and more during his three years as a Quin. He is any coach’s dream.
He’s probably been the first name on Quins coach Mike McFarlane’s team-sheet every game this season and UAE rugby’s performance manager Perelini has been so impressed with the newly eligible Bolger he has penciled him in as his vice-captain behind skipper Niall Statham for the tour to Uzbekistan.
Observing the UAE’s final training session on Tuesday night at The Sevens before they jet off to Tashkent on Sunday ahead of their Division II semi-final clash with the hosts next Wednesday, Bolger’s voice was audible above any other, cajoling and encouraging his colleagues.
You somehow feel he would be just as boisterous even if he was not in a position of power.
“To be honest even if I wasn’t captain, the sort of person I am I wear my heart on my sleeve and I’m a proud person,” admitted Bolger, who left behind a promising rugby league career with London Broncos to move to the UAE three years ago.
Bolger had also been on the fringes of the England Under-20 set-up in his teenage years but admits he is only interested in looking forward and earning promotion to Division I of the ARC with the UAE.
“I’m the worst loser and I’m a competitor so I’ll do my best to lead, that’s whether I’m vice captain or a normal squad player, nothing changes,” he added.
“I’m sure it’s the same for Niall. We’re here and I play rugby to win. It’s never as fun when you’re losing, so it doesn’t matter to me. I’m still going to be vocal and drive the team forward.”
After coming so close to winning Division II a year ago – only a 20-19 defeat to hosts Malaysia prevented the UAE from going up – Bolger insists there is only one thing on their minds this year.
The UAE team hold their final training session prior to their departure to Uzbekistan on Sunday pic.twitter.com/j1WuwEKifz— Matt Jones (@MattJones360) 10 May 2016
“We’re all here for one reason,” he said.
“It’s a good bunch of boys, it’s been nice to get out and play with players you’ve played against all season and get to know them a bit better, but we need to make sure we go and do what we set out to.
“We’ve definitely got our eyes on the prize, we’re not interested in coming second or third. It’s all or nothing.”
Bolger will convert to inside centre from his accustomed outside flanker role with Quins, although it’s a position his coach his comfortable putting him in.
“He’s slotted into an inside centre role really, really well. Not many players will get past him, he’s a strong defender and he’s got good hands, is a strong runner,” said former dual-code Samoa international Perelini.
“He’s a leader. I’ve put the guys there (him and Niall) strategically because they command respect from their peers. They’re the guys you want in the trenches when the backs are to the walls. You need guys who others will want to follow.”
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