The UAE will aim to make up for lost time on Wednesday when they take on Guam in their Asia Rugby Championship (ARC) Division II play-off.
The men from the Emirates are trying to bounce back into the second tier of continental rugby after a decision from the UAE Rugby Federation 12 months ago which saw Apollo Perelini’s side pull out of their traditional annual trip to take on the best international sides in Asia.
Having finished bottom yet putting in spirited displays during a competitive ARC Division I campaign in 2017, the UAE’s players’ only action in 2018 was a friendly in Dubai against a touring Gibraltar side – dampening hopes of another crack at the continent.
Now, they are back and will be heavy favourites to swat aside minnows Guam at the True Arena in Hua Hin and set up a final showdown with either host nation Thailand or Kazakhstan on Saturday.
But Dubai Exiles lock Stephen Ferguson insists no-one will be underestimating their opponents – who are actually a place above them (69th) in World Rugby’s rankings.
“Making the final is the least everyone expects, 100 per cent, our mindset is that we want to be in Division 1,” said the Northern Irishman, who will win his first UAE cap should he feature from the bench.
“But we are not underestimating anyone. We have a job to do and will go out and give it everything. Some boys are playing their first game at international level while others like Chris Jones-Griffiths is on 25 caps, so there’s a real mix of characters, and we’re going out to smash it together.”
The UAE players will be even more desperate to get onto the field, having missed out on the action a year ago when it was felt Perelini had assembled the most potent squad in the nation’s fledgling history.
Joining Ferguson as new members this year are the likes of clubmate Ed Armitage, Jebel Ali Dragons full-back Matt Richards and livewire Abu Dhabi Harlequins winger Barry Dwyer, who will line up at scrum-half.
And Ferguson added: “We just all got our jerseys at a presentation. We’re all absolutely buzzing and cannot wait.
“Thailand has been amazing. Real bonding happening between the lads, making us a band of brothers. We’re going to go out and fight for each other tomorrow and get into the final on Saturday.”
Forwards: Chris Jones-Griffiths, Gio Fourie, Craig Nutt, Daniel Perry, Isaac Porter, Matt Mills, Hamish Anderson, Jaen Botes
Backs: Barry Dwyer, Luke Stevenson (capt), Sean Carey, Andrew Powell, Sakiusa Naisau, Thinus Steyn, Matthew Richards
Replacements: Lukas Waddington, Murray Reason, Ahmed Moosa, Stephen Ferguson, Sean Stevens, Edward Armitage, Kini Natuna, Majid Al Balooshi
Know more about Sport360 Application