The UAE overcame a determined Thailand to eventually earn a comfortable 53-22 win in their opening Division II match of the Asia Rugby Championship.
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Playing in the sticky 33 degree temperatures at Kuala Lumpur’s Stadium Petaling Jaya, Thailand stuck to Roelof Kotze’s men like glue in an enthralling first half which was tied 17-17 at the interval.
Abu Dhabi Saracens’ skipper Jaen Botes and veteran Abu Dhabi Harlequins’ scrum-half Ed Lewsey, both earning their first UAE caps, touched down for tries as did Quins prop Chris Jones Griffiths, the most capped UAE international ever (20).
The Thais, however, showed they weren’t going to succumb to the superior UAE pack willingly, Warongkorn Khamkoet scoring 12 points with a try, penalty and two conversions, with Pannapat Pooltharat also adding a try in an exciting opening 40 minutes.
Clint Berkenshaw’s penalty after the interval gave the UAE a 20-17 lead and from then on they cut more of a swagger in the second half, notching five more tries as Thailand were eventually put to the sword.
The UAE even overcame the sin-binning of captain Adam Telford and fellow Jebel Ali Dragon Daniel Minks to record a statement victory.
Telford emerged from the bin to make a positive contribution with a try, while there were also second half scores for Jonathan Greenwood, Matt Hutchings, Phil Brady and Hassan Al Noobi, who also added four conversions for a personal haul of 13 points.
Captain Telford told Sport360 after the game: “They surprised us a bit and we were 14-5 down early on, they had a lot of pace out wide,” said the 33-year-old.
“We knew our strength was our physicality and pack and we started to then play to our strengths, continuing that in the second half, where we dominated.”
Scot Telford scored his first international try for the UAE and hopes there is more to come, both from himself and the team.
“There were a few nerves, obviously there were lots of first caps and Thailand play completely different rugby to what we’re used to in the UAE.
“We worked out how to play and it was great to get that first run-out and it sets us up nicely for the next game.”
The UAE face hosts Malaysia on Wednesday and Etonia Vaqa Saukuru scored a hat-trick and Atunasia Lacadamu Takubu added another two as they warmed up for their meeting with the UAE with an equally comfortable 46-13 win over Chinese Taipei.
“Malaysia will be the real test. They looked strong against Chinese Taipei and it will be a crunch game,” said Telford.
Debutant Botes really enjoyed his UAE debut, which he capped with a try.
“It was hot and humid but it was really good putting on the UAE jersey and a win was a bonus,” said the Sarries’ powerhouse.
“They gave us a good game and we had to work really hard before breaking through in the second half. Everyone played really well and it’s something to build on for the next two games.”
Kotze will be happy with victory, which gets a new era of UAE international rugby off to a strong start. His team face hosts Malaysia next on Wednesday (KO 13:00 UAE).
Tries: C Jones Griffiths, E Lewsey, J Botes, A Telford, J Greenwood, M Hutchings, P Brady, H Al Noobi
Cons: H Al Noobi (4), C Berkenshaw
Pens: C Berkenshaw
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