They may have lost all but one of their five games, but Apollo Perelini believes his UAE squad can achieve a top-four finish at the 2019 Asia Rugby Sevens Series.
The UAE finished seventh of eight teams in South Korea on Sunday, claiming a morale-boosting 31-5 triumph against Chinese Taipei in their final game of the weekend.
At first glance, four defeats does not seem encouraging, but the fact that Perelini’s men competed in every single game – their heaviest defeat was a credible 29-7 scoreline against continental heavyweights Japan – will encourage both coach and his players.
After a tough start against Japan in Pool A on Saturday, the UAE went down to narrow defeats against China (24-14) and Sri Lanka (21-17) before they were edged out by the Philippines 21-19 in their knockout round encounter on Sunday.
They finished with a 31-5 victory over Taipei – their victory was tellingly bigger than the margin in any of their four defeats – while destructive Dubai Hurricanes centre Sakiusa Naisau finished joint-top try-scorer over the weekend with six scores, level with host nation Korea’s Jeong Min-jang.
And Perelini believes his UAE team will only get better as the tournament progresses – the UAE head to China in two weeks before wrapping up the series in Sri Lanka at the end of the month.
“I think we’re going to get better. We’re playing for a top-four finish and I really believe we can achieve that, both in terms of next time and overall in the series,” Perelini told Sport360.
“We’ve reviewed and we’ll look towards the next tournament in China. We’ve just to keep learning and working hard.
“We also have some good players who didn’t travel to Korea so we might be adding a couple of players to the squad and get some others back ahead of final tournament in Sri Lanka.”
Perelini bemoaned the challenging environment his side have encountered in working towards their return to the elite level of Asian sevens rugby – they have not featured in the top tier Asia Sevens Series in four years.
Since 2015 they’ve been playing in the Development Sevens Series and the Asia Rugby Sevens Trophy, winning the latter last year to return to the elite level.
“The biggest issue was fitness, it always is,” added the New Zealander.
“There has been a lack of preparation and time together because the guys are working and we’ve been training during July and August when players are travelling. A lot of them travel overseas over the summer so getting them back into shape is always the hardest thing.
“Dubai’s weather isn’t exactly conducive to training either. It’s challenging but overall the weekend was very encouraging.
“We were a bit disappointed we lost a couple of the games, particularly against Sri Lanka and the Philippines. We felt we were the better team. But the players are realising the type of level that they are expected to be at, at an Asia tournament. We’ll come back and reflect on our performances.”
Naisau was the sole UAE try-scorer in defeat to Japan with he and Jebel Ali Dragons flyer Niko Volavola crossing in the China loss. Those two were joined on the scoresheet by Jeremaia Kilicanasau in the narrow loss to Sri Lanka while both also scored yet again in the Philippines loss, with Tobias Oakeley the UAE’s other scorer.
Naisau scored his fifth and sixth tries in victory over Chinese Taipei, while Kini Natuna also charged over for a brace with a fifth scored by Volavola.
Japan 29 UAE 7
China 24 UAE 14
Sri Lanka 21 UAE 17
Philippines 21 UAE 19
UAE 31 Chinese Taipei 5
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