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