Apollo Perelini's UAE finish strong to secure spot on 2020 Asia Rugby Sevens Series

Matt Jones - Editor 13:46 30/09/2019
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The UAE's Luke Stevenson (l), Saki Naisau (front centre) and Matt Mills (on ground) in action against Sri Lanka.

The UAE saved the best for last as they achieved a sixth-place finish at the Sri Lanka 7s, thereby securing their spot on the Asia Rugby Sevens Series for 2020.

It had been Apollo Perelini’s ambition to finish in the top four overall from the three legs of the 2019 edition but he and his players will be content with finishing seventh overall, which means they qualify for next year’s series ahead of Chinese Taipei who were relegated to the second tier Asia Rugby Sevens Trophy competition. They will be replaced next year by Malaysia.

A 34-0 defeat at the hands of Hong Kong at the Racecourse Stadium in Colombo on Saturday did not augur well for Perelini’s troops, but they bounced back to beat South Korea 24-17 in their next match – Luke Stevenson, Andrew Powell, Matt Richards and Niko Volavola scoring their tries.

They went down to the tournament hosts early on Sunday, Conor John Kennedy and Esekaia Dranibota going over in the losing 35-10 effort. They recovered to win their maiden knockout game of the series – and in some style too – trouncing Taipei 38-0 in the Plate semis.

Force of nature Sakiusa Naisau stormed over for a hat-trick while Kennedy, Andrew Semple and Justin Walsh also scored tries as the UAE set up a showdown with the Filipinos – Stevenson and Richards’ tries, both converted by the former, not quite enough as they were edged out 19-14.

But it is the grand prize of a place on next year’s circuit that will be valued above all else by all involved.

And Dubai Hurricanes speedster Jerry Kilicanasau confirmed the players are happy to have survived, which will give them a chance to prove next year that they belong at this level.

“It’s not a bad result for the last tour (of the series), it’s better than being last and to drop back to Tier 2,” he said.

“So we’re happy with the results for staying up in the league and competing with professional teams as we know that we’re meant to be up at that level.”

The UAE have steadily improved over the three legs, held over the course of the last month in Korea, China and Sri Lanka. They finished bottom of their pool in Incheon with just three points, although they did at least thrash Taipei in the seventh-eighth place play-off.

In Huizhou in mid-September they claimed five points in the pool but then lost to Taipei in the Plate semi-finals before then falling to the Philippines in the play-off to come eighth.

But in Colombo last weekend they put in their strongest performance, beating Korea in the pool before dispatching of Taipei with ease. They were pipped by the Philippines in the final but had done enough to secure their status for next year.

Continental heavyweights Japan and Hong Kong finished joint top overall with 32 points, with the UAE on seven with Taipei, but their better record over the three legs counted in their favour.

Asia Rugby Sevens Series 2019 – overall standings

Rank      Team                 Korea     China     Sri Lanka  Overall points

1          Japan                   12           8             12              32

2          Hong Kong          10           12           10              32

3          China                    8            10            8               26

4          Sri Lanka              5             7             7              19

5          South Korea         7             5             1              13

6          Philippines           4             2             5              11

7          UAE                       2             1             4              7

8          Chinese Taipei      1             4             2              7

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