Jaen Botes is looking forward to more “exciting times ahead” for UAE rugby as he and the nation prepare for a return to the elite Asia Rugby Sevens Series.
The UAE have been roaming the relative international wilderness of sevens rugby in recent years, having not played in the main series since 2015. In the ensuing years they’ve foraged in the Development Sevens Series and the Asia Rugby Sevens Trophy – lifting that accolade last year to climb back into the main series for 2019.
Apollo Perelini’s men are the eighth and bottom seed across three legs of the series to be played during August and September, and they face the daunting task of taking on heavyweights and top seeds Japan in Pool A of the opening appointment in South Korea at the end of next month.
The UAE also face fourth seeds Sri Lanka and fifth seeds China in Incheon from August 31-September 1. But after their triumphant return to Division I in the 15-man game’s Asia Rugby Championship earlier this year, Botes admits confidence is sky high.
“It’s been a hectic year of rugby,” admitted the ferocious Dubai Exiles No.8.
“We went away to Thailand and came back as champions of Division II which gave us all a boost of motivation to achieve more. It was a great achievement for the UAE and hopefully we can achieve more.
“There are very exciting times ahead. We’ve been training every week, we all did our testing a few weeks back which gave us a platform to work off and a benchmark where we need to be for the upcoming three-leg tour over August and September as individuals as well as a team.
“We have a tough group but it’s only reasonable to challenge ourselves early on.”
The UAE were promoted to the main series for 2019 after a dominant performance in last year’s Trophy, beating hosts Singapore 14-0 in August’s final.
They had previously swatted aside their group rivals, including big wins over Indonesia (48-0), Jordan (45-5) and Nepal (36-5), scoring 129 points and conceding just 10. They beat Thailand 26-0 in the semis before overcoming the hosts at Queenstown Stadium.
Hong Kong, the Philippines, South Korea and Chinese Taipei make up Pool B in the opening leg of the series.
“After a few weeks off a number of us received the invitation from AP to be in the sevens training squad,” added the South African, who spent part of his youth career with Welsh provincial sides Cardiff Blues and Scarlets.
“At first I was shocked as there is a lot of talent to pick from, however, I have taken on the challenge to better myself and train hard to be at the level expected from me.
“We have a great team behind us and the mood in camp is great, everyone is challenging themselves and each week the atmosphere is getting better.”
Botes is not everyone’s cup of tea back home on the domestic circuit. Warm and engaging off the field, he is a nightmare on it. A hulking and imposing physical presence, he chats non-stop and has a habit of winding up the opposition, as well as walking a tight rope with referees.
But he must be commended on his fitness regime. For a big man he has never had any problems getting across the field and, despite not possessing the figure of a traditional sevens player, has long been part of the UAE set-up in both the long and shortened format.
But he admits he has made changes this year in a bid to maintain and improve his fitness and stay part of Perelini’s sevens plans. He has teamed up with Fuel-Up by Kcal – the first meal prep company in the UAE dedicated to athletes and the seriously ambitious.
#UAERF 7's team now undergoing testing for @asiarugby #ARSS Series Tournament, all the best of luck! 🏆🇦🇪🏉— UAE Rugby Federation (@uaerugby) June 18, 2019
Thanks to @DESCDubai for hosting our testing session! #MyRugbyMoment #RugbyBuildsCharacter #RWC2019 pic.twitter.com/NVXo8YhlsZ
The 6’ 4” man mountain is maybe more of a hill these days, now weighing 114kg having lost 3kg of body fat during his first cycle with Kcal and gaining 800g of muscle mass.
“With sevens, it is ideal to be far lighter than when you’re playing in 15s rugby, especially for me,” joked Botes, who is currently on his second cycle as he looks to hone his abilities in order to be in peak condition for the UAE’s gruelling schedule ahead.
“The game of sevens, from my perspective, is all about mental strength, conditioning and skill. I have been fortunate enough to have Fuel-Up (Kcal) looking after me and my nutrition in the preparation for the upcoming tour.
“Nutrition is extremely important during this stage as it helps promote my performance during training sessions, my recovery and prevent any injuries.
“It is essential to have a very strong nutrition base so that it makes it easier to push myself to a different level as we look to compete against Asia’s best.”
Botes has noticed the benefit of teaming up with Kcal and is advising fellow athletes to do the same.
“I have been in and out of Fuel-Up office the last couple of weeks dealing with the nutritionist in tracking my daily macros and helping me drop my weight to a reasonable level, and I must say they have been extremely helpful with it all,” said the former Abu Dhabi Saracens man.
“Their expertise has taught me various things about nutrition and I’m grateful to have the support.
“I would strongly recommend any athlete in the UAE to do the same as the extreme conditions we train and play in here does have a role to play on our performance and having the right nutrition base will only promote your abilities.
“I have noticed a dramatic change in my recovery and performance during my training and it is all thanks to Fuel-Up and the Kcal team.”
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