You could forgive the UAE’s players for coming home from South Korea under a melancholic cloud following four defeats from five games on their return to the elite of Asia sevens rugby.
But having competed confidently with the continent’s best and emerged with a combined points deficit of only -12, the players are confident that coach Apollo Perelini’s belief in a top four finish is not fanciful.
The UAE lost their opening four games in Incheon on Saturday and Sunday, but a defeat by 22 points to Asia behemoths Japan was their worst, while they ended on a high by thrashing Chinese Taipei 31-5 to claim seventh place.
They conceded 100 points but also scored 88, and that fills the players with spirit heading into the second of three legs on the 2019 Asia Rugby Sevens Series in China in two week’s time.
“We’re heading back home with our heads high, we’ll fix these little errors and come back stronger on the next one,” insists livewire full-back/wing Jerry Kilicanasau, of Dubai Hurricanes.
“There were some close defeats. Just minor errors we need to work on to be better on the next one. The good thing is the boys know the other teams now so we’re expecting to do better in the next tournament.”
The view was shared by Justin Walsh, Kilicanasau’s former team-mate at Dubai Exiles, who said a few defeats could easily have been wins.
“The mood is generally pretty good as we pushed all the teams we played and showed that we are there to compete. We’re annoyed not to get more wins really,” he said.
After a 29-7 defeat to giants Japan, the UAE were beaten 24-14 by Japan before slender defeats to Sri Lanka (21-17) in their final pool game, while they were edged out 21-19 in the first knockout round by the Philippines.
They bounced back against Taipei and Walsh is already looking ahead to the Huizhou leg over September 14-15.
“We know what we need to try and do for the next few tournaments and keep working hard,” added Walsh.
“We could have beaten Sri Lanka and could have beaten China if it had clicked properly. We were disappointed with the losses because they could have been wins.”
Dubai Knights Eagles will be hosting an open day this Friday, September 6, following this summer’s merger between Dubai Eagles and Arabian Knights.
The club’s culture ensures everyone is welcome, whether they have experience in rugby or not, with registrations taking place at The Dome, Dubai Sports City, ahead of the official start of the upcoming season.
There will be plenty of entertainment taking place, with rugby games planned and a selection of food and beverage stands on offer. All those visiting will have the chance to meet with members of the club and see the facilities first-hand.
Vijay Sajjanhar, chief financial officer of Dubai Sports City, said: “Ahead of the new rugby season, I am sure all those signing up at our open day will have an active fun-filled time and see what we have to offer.
“The newly formed Dubai Knights Eagles speaks loudly in regards to our commitment at Dubai Sports City to ensure rugby as a sport flourishes in the UAE. I hope all of those signing up in September will be able to look back next summer on a season full of unforgettable memories.”
Also present at the open day will be Josh Ives, who was recently unveiled as the new head coach of the Knights Eagles, ahead of the club’s first official game of the season in the West Asia Premiership on Friday, October 4.
Ives has a strong rugby background having been involved with the Dubai Eagles since they were formed while he previously coached with Apollo Perelini’s Rugby Academy, where he was the head skills coach for six years.
His own personal playing experience includes the UAE 15s and 7s national sides, England rugby schools and Northampton Saints.
Speaking about the appointment, director of rugby Sean Carey said: “Our rugby club may only be recently formed, but Josh’s appointment and his commitment to continue from the Dubai Eagles shows just how serious we are about the upcoming season.
“Josh is a fantastic coach, with extensive experience as a coach in the UAE and as a player for the national team in both 15s and 7s. We believe his appointment is the right one to bring Dubai Knights Eagles success in the short, medium and long term.”
Preparation for the new season is already well under way for both the men’s and women’s teams. Training began back in July where both teams spent six weeks in the Powerbase Gym and The Dome focusing on rugby specific strength and conditioning programme.
With the weather now cooling, the Knights Eagles men’s side has begun conducting training sessions at Sports Park where the teams train every Monday and Wednesday at 7pm. The men’s side has a friendly scheduled against Al Ain this Friday, September 6, with 65 players having turned up for pre-season training already.
The women’s team is also in regular training with sessions taking place on Monday’s at 7pm and Wednesday’s at 8pm, with their first tournament scheduled to take place on Friday, September 27.
The new club’s kit has also been announced and will feature the orange of the Arabian Knights and the green of the Dubai Eagles. Avtrade has joined as a kit sponsor, alongside the club’s current sponsor ALTRAD.
The consolidation of the two clubs will create the third largest club in the region. For further information about the Knights Eagles visit the following link dkerugby.com or @dkerugby on Instagram and Facebook.
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