UAE can become one of the top three rugby teams in Asia

Matt Jones 28/04/2015
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Optimistic: Al Dhalai believes that UAE rugby can spring a surprise in Kuala Lumpur.

Qais Al Dhalai believes the UAE can become one of the top three teams in Asia within the next two years.

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Al Dhalai, secretary general of the UAE Rugby Federation, is excited for the future of the 15-a-side game in the country as they get set to take part in Asia Rugby Championship in Kuala Lumpur next month.

Roelof Kotze’s team will play Malaysia, Thailand and Chinese Taipei (Taiwan) in Division II in the Malaysian capital in a few weeks’ time as they start their bid to climb out of the third tier of Asian rugby.

They were relegated from tier two at this time last year by Singapore.

The restructured tournament aims to provide Asia’s rugby union teams with the opportunity to play more games against unions that are matched in skill and fitness, although Al Dhalai believes the UAE are far better than the trio of teams they will be facing next month.

The UAE will play their games on Sunday, May 10, Wednesday, May 13, and Saturday, May 16.

“I predict we will finish either first or second but I think we are going to win. I have seen these teams play in recent years and they are not better than us. I think we are far better and am confident we will win,” he said.

“For three years we have been trying to restructure the squad and trying to get new, young players in and I can promise that this current squad is both exciting and sustainable as the players are mainly young.”

Al Dhalai compared the current strength of UAE club-level rugby to that of Hong Kong, who are ranked second in Asia and 24 in the world. The UAE are ranked eighth in Asia and 56 in the world, with Japan – 14 in the world – Asia’s top team, with South Korea completing the top three.

Al Dhalai believes the UAE can break into the Asia top three by 2017.

“I am excited for their (UAE’s) future,” he said.

“We will have a better chance to play more competitive rugby (against Chinese Taipei, Malaysia, Thailand) and earn promotion to Division I.

“(West Asia Cup winners) Abu Dhabi Saracens are a young side but they are on the same level with the top teams in Hong Kong and compete at a similar level.

“Trevor Gregory (Asia RFU president) told me this so I am confident the (UAE) team will win the title and progress toward becoming a top three team in Asia by 2017.”

Asia rugby nations’ rankings (world ranking in brackets):

1 Japan (14)

2 Hong Kong (24)

3 South Korea (31)

4 Philippines (39)

5 Sri Lanka (40)

6 Kazakhstan (48)

7 Israel (51)

8 UAE (56)

9 Singapore (57)

10 Chinese Taipei (58)

11 Malaysia (59)

12 Iran (60)

13 Thailand (61)

14 India (66)

15 China (71)

16 Indonesia (73)

17 Pakistan (74)

UAE National XV’s 32-man training squad: Adam Telford, Andrew Carphin, Brian Rushe, Charles Sargent, Chris Jones Griffiths, Clint Berkenshaw, Cyrus Homayoun*, Daniel Minks, Ed Lewsey, Graham Murphy, Hareb Al Azri*, Hassan Al Noobi*, James Parker, Jason Murphy, Jaen Botes, Joe Cooper, Johnny Greenwood, Jono Bester, Justin Walsh, Khalid Al Blooshi*, Mark Weissenborn, Matt Hutchings, Mikey Botha , Mohamed Hassan*, Mohannad Shaker*, Niall Statham, Paul Hart, Phil Brady, Ryno Fourie, Saeed Ibrahim*, Tyson Byrne, Waleed Salem*

* denotes Emirati players

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#360Rugby: Scintillating Wasp Simpson

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Sold-out seats: The Millennium Stadium

Sunshine enveloped much of Europe this weekend, with the summery conditions producing some scintillating rugby.

In England, Wasps put themselves in the mix for a play-off spot, while their scrum-half Joe Simpson put his hand up for England. Meanwhile, in Wales a record crowd flocked to the Millennium Stadium for Judgement Day III. Here are five things we learned from the action.

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Wasps’ resurgence shows little sign of stalling

“It was move or die”. That was Wasps CEO Nick Eastwood’s blunt assessment shortly after it was announced the Premiership club would be moving north to Coventry.

Initially it was a decision met with derision, but as the season has progressed, Wasps’ relocation has not only saved the club it has given it a whole new lease of life.

Sunday’s victory over Exeter has moved Dai Young’s resurgent side to within three points of a play-off place with two games of the campaign to play and the wind in their sails.

A top-four finish in the first six months of the club’s move to the British midlands would be some achievement, and it is clear success on the pitch has helped smooth the switch with fans.

Although well down on their first home gate in Coventry – when 28,254 witnessed a big win over London Irish – the 16,712 that turned up to watch them hold off the Chiefs still represents close to a 200 per cent increase on the crowds they were generating at Adams Park.

Moreover, with just under two weeks to go until their final home match of the season against fourth-placed Leicester, only a thousand or so tickets remain, meaning a 32,600 sell-out is almost a formality.

That would be a record for an English club at their home ground, and the positive news emanating from the club doesn’t end there. Wasps announced on Monday a bond issue that they hope will raise between £25 million (Dh139m) and £35m and make them the richest club in Europe.

For a club who were consistently losing £3m a season prior to their make-or-break move to Coventry, that in itself is quite some achievement.

Simpson puts himself in England shop window

It is difficult to single out one star of Wasps’ recent rise up the Premiership table, but few players epitomise their renaissance better than Joe Simpson.

Scrum-half Simpson has been sensational this season, and secured Sunday’s victory with an outrageously opportunistic try.

The score perfectly highlighted the qualities the 26-year-old brings to the pitch as he spotted a gap in his own half, and then had the pace and composure to outstrip the Chiefs defence.

Those are precisely the skills that Simpson hopes can earn him an international recall in time for England’s home World Cup this autumn.

Certainly, the ‘Simpson for England’ bandwagon, which has been quietly picking up since last September, is seemingly preparing for a stunning crescendo.

Simpson admits he is behind Ben Youngs, Richard Wigglesworth and Danny Care for a starting spot in the No9 jersey, but he believes his pace and eye for a gap make him perfect for a role on the bench.

There would surely be few better impact players than Simpson were England to find themselves in a hole during this autumn’s tournament.

Whether England’s oft-pragmatic approach to selection will be moulded to accommodate Simpson remains to be seen, but few players deserve the chance to press their claim more than the Wasps No9.

Race for Premiership top four hots up

Northampton’s win over Saracens in Milton Keynes has seen them secure a home play-off semi-final. Bath too appear to have done enough to sew up second.

However, behind those two clubs the weekend’s results has blown the race for the final two play-off places wide open, not least because the four clubs still in contention play each other in a fortnight.

Indeed were Wasps to beat Leicester at the Ricoh Arena, and Saracens to lose on their own turf to Exeter then the top four would have a very different complexion.

And while it is still all to play for, it looks as though the fourth-placed Tigers are in most danger of dropping out of the race for silverware.

Not only do they have to travel to Coventry a week on Saturday, while they face a final-day trip to leaders Northampton, the other clubs in the race are playing teams currently in the bottom half.

Saracens, moreover, face a trip to Oxford to play London Welsh on May 16 meaning that they would be all-but assured of a semi-final spot should they avoid defeat to the Chiefs.

Even a losing bonus point against Exeter could be good enough to see them through were Wasps to beat Leicester.

Obviously there is a lot of rugby to be played between now and the semi-finals on May 23, but such excitement levels can only be good for the league and the fans who follow it.

There is life in the Welsh regions yet

It was not so long ago that the club game in Wales appeared to be drifting towards oblivion. 

A stand-off between the Welsh Rugby Union (WRU) and the regions over how the sport in the principality was run, and more importantly funded, showed little sign of resolution.

The clubs threatened to walk away from the Pro12 and join the Premiership in England, while the WRU suggested it would simply form new teams, over which it would have more control.

In short, the game in Wales had reached a crossroads, yet just eight months since a £60m peace deal was agreed the domestic game appears to be in much better shape.

Central contracts have helped national coach, Warren Gatland, keep stars such as Sam Warburton in the country, and if Judgement Day III at the Millennium Stadium was anything to go by, fans have regained their faith.

Saturday’s double header saw a record 52,762 crowd join Gatland for the event, after which WRU chairman Gareth Davies thanked the Welsh public.

All is not completely rosy, of course, with only the Ospreys having any chance of finishing the season with any silverware. But coming just two months since Davies published an open letter to Welsh rugby fans, Saturday’sattendance proves there is an appetite for domestic rugby.

If that can be harnessed properly then the regions could yet become competitive at home and in Europe once again.

EPCR learning from a rare mistake

It is often said that you only truly learn from making the odd mistake. If that is true, then European Professional Club Rugby (EPCR), organisers of the Champions and Challenge Cups, will have gleaned a lot from the past week.

It cannot be denied that scheduling the Champions Cup final just two weeks after the semi-finals was a huge strategic mistake.

Although, the scheduling was at the request of the Top 14 clubs, EPCR should have been a lot more firm knowing before a game had been played, that an all-French final was a very real possibility.

On the whole it has been a very good first season for the Champions and Challenge Cups, and the positives far outweigh the negative press generated over the past week or so.

It is encouraging to hear, then, that the organisers have agreed to push back next year’s final to mid-May in light of poor ticket sales for Saturday’s showpiece between Clermont and Toulon.

But they will hope their first season in control of continental competition will be remembered for the sparkling rugby that has been played this season; not a half-full Twickenham this weekend.

Bonus Point

When is a dummy not a dummy? Former All Black Joe Rokocoko displayed his fleet of foot and hand as he scored an usual try for Bayonne. Enjoy…

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Wasps aim for £35m cash boost with bond launch

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Cashing in: Wasps.

English Premiership side Wasps have launched a retail bond on the London Stock Exchange which they hope could see them become one of the world’s wealthiest rugby clubs.

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Wasps are hoping enough investors will take up the seven-year bond with a 6.5 percent annual rate of interest to boost their finances by as much as £35 million ($53 million, 49 million euros) and enable them to compete with the likes of wealthy French clubs such as Toulouse.

“We expect to be in that position either at end of this season or next season,” Wasps’ chief executive David Armstrong told BBC Radio Five Live.

Last year saw Wasps move from Adams Park in Wycombe, north of London, where they were effectively tenants of Wycombe Wanderers football club, to the Midlands city of Coventry where they have bought the multi-purpose 32,000-seater Ricoh Arena.

“We were previously the second-lowest revenue-generating club in Premiership rugby. We are now the second highest in Europe,” Armstrong added.

“In terms of size of revenue, we will overtake Toulouse in the next few months. We are in a very strong position financially.”

Unlike many of their rivals, whose grounds are set up to deal with rugby and rely on broadcast revenue to top up their income, Wasps can generate funds at the Ricoh from a concert venue, casino, two restaurants and a hotel.

“This is creating a new financial model in rugby,” Armstrong added.

“The old model of either owning a purpose-built rugby stadium, or even being a tenant in somebody else’s stadium, has now been superseded by what we’ve done.”

Wasps, sixth in the Premiership, are already close to the £5 million salary cap restrictions in place for clubs in English rugby union’s top-flight.

However, the sale of bonds could allow them to have sufficient funds to spend on the two ‘marquee’ or star players whose wages are allowed to be excluded from the salary cap from next season.

Premiership clubs are currently restricted to one ‘marquee player’ each but from the 2015/16 season they will be able to sign another provided he is new to Premiership rugby and has not played in the competition for at least 12 months.

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