He will be 37 in December yet UAE national team coach Apollo Perelini clearly sees value in Matt Richards after selecting him in his UAE sevens squad that returns to the Asia Rugby Sevens Series this weekend.
The UAE have been roaming the international wilderness of sevens rugby in recent years. They have 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. They lifted the Trophy in 2018 to earn promotion back to the main series for 2019.
Perelini’s men are the eighth and bottom seed across three legs of the series, and they face a difficult task with top seeds Japan in Pool A with them at their opening appointment in Incheon, South Korea, this weekend.
The UAE also face fourth seeds Sri Lanka and fifth seeds China at the Namdong Asiad Stadium, with the tournament kicking off on Saturday and finishing on Sunday.
And Jebel Ali Dragons full-back Richards can’t wait to make his debut for his adopted nation in the shorter format of the game.
“I’m proud to be selected in the 12, especially as the depth of our squad is good (the training squad this summer as a whole is made up of around 20 players),” said Richards, who has previously played for the UAE XVs side.
“I’m glad that Apollo thinks I can transfer my skill set from the 15 format into the sevens. It’s not bad for someone who is 37 before Christmas being selected.
“I’m really looking forward to the challenge of playing sevens at the highest level. It might not be the highest competition, but you can’t get higher than this division.”
The UAE earned promotion to the main series for 2019 after a dominant performance in last year’s Trophy, beating hosts Singapore 14-0 in the final.
They’d earlier easily swatted aside their group rivals, including commanding 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.
With Japan up first on day one, Richards and Co are under no illusion just how tough the job is in front of them. But he insists the UAE simply want to go there and compete.
“This weekend expectations are based more around our performances rather than results,” added the Englishman.
“We want to be able to compete for the entire 14 minutes, staying in our attacking and defensive shapes – this will give us confidence going into leg two and three of the series – and results are usually more favourable with strong performances.
“We are under no illusions that this is going to be a tough leg of a very tough tournament, first up against Japan on day one, but Apollo is adapting our game plan to suit our strengths.
“Apollo just wants us to enjoy the experience, give a good account of ourselves personally and as a team, and build into the series as a whole rather than just focus on one weekend.”
The three-leg series will move on to China and Huizhou from September 14-15 and conclude in Colombo, Sri Lanka, from September 28-29.
Training has been arduous in the scorching UAE summer, but it is also something that puts the UAE at an advantage, according to Richards.
He added: “Training has been hot, especially when we’ve been having two field sessions sandwiching the gym sessions, although the boys have been conditioning for a while now so our fitness helps with combatting the heat.”
Hong Kong, the Philippines, South Korea and Chinese Taipei make up Pool B in the opening leg of the series.
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