Captain Devante Steele says he is honoured to lead the UAE and expects his troops to “rise to the challenge” at the opening leg of the Asia Rugby Under 20 Sevens Series in Malaysia on Saturday.
Apollo Perelini’s side face a stern test in Johor, on the country’s south coast, having finished rock bottom in the series a year ago.
An opening win against Sri Lanka in Hong Kong 12 months ago was followed by five consecutive defeats to Malaysia, China, the hosts and Thailand, with a 24-21 defeat to Kazakhstan in the seventh/eighth-place game leaving the UAE in last place on the second leg of the ARSS and overall.
The only way is up though for the UAE, and Steele is confident.
“We are switched on and ready to go, I feel confident in the boys and all the hard work that has been put in,” said the Al Ain Amblers teenager. “There will always be the pregame nerves and jitters but when it comes down to it we just need to stick to our game. I know the boys will go hard to show their determination and it should be a good tournament for the team.”
The UAE are certainly up against it in Pool B where they lock horns with the continent’s supreme powerhouse in Japan.
They open up against Thailand on Saturday and also take on the Philippines before closing the pool stages against Sri Lanka on Sunday. The tournament then shifts to the knockout stages and the Plate and Cup competitions.
Steele was part of the UAE team at last year’s series and the 19-year-old American has gone on to represent his adopted nation at senior sevens level this year, while also featuring heavily for Amblers in the UAE Premiership and West Asia Championship.
He will be one of 10 Amblers’ players that make up Perelini’s 12-man squad and believes the key is not being too daunted and remaining focused.
“Just being able to play again and represent the UAE, the feeling is unbelievable, and I am honoured and humbled to be the captain of this team,” said the former Manor Hall International School pupil. “I am pretty pumped and so were the boys at our last training session before the tournament. I just really want to try and keep the boys in the games and just try to focus on one game at a time.
“We have Thailand first and my thoughts on them are that they are going to have a lot of speed and some good steppers, but we want to play our game and keep level heads and stay positive.
“I know we have Japan later in the day but that game will come. For now we focus game by game. The challenge is there, we just need to rise to it and take it on.”