He may not have been part of the final installment as his adopted nation celebrated, but Jaen Botes was nonetheless able to revel in the UAE’s fine achievement of securing their Asia Rugby Sevens Series status for 2020.
Coach Apollo Perelini had made it his ambition to finish in the top four overall from the three legs of the 2019 edition, but competing in South Korea, China and Sri Lanka against seven other teams – who all train as professional outfits – was always going to be a monumental task.
In the end the UAE finished seventh overall, which means they qualify for next year’s series ahead of Chinese Taipei, relegated to the second tier Asia Rugby Sevens Trophy competition.
A strong showing in Colombo last weekend, on the series’ final leg, saw the UAE finish jointly on seven points with Taipei, but Perelini’s charges survived having amassed a far superior points difference across the three-leg series which has taken place over the last month.
And despite being in Japan at the Rugby World Cup with friends and family as his team-mates secured their status, Dubai Exiles powerhouse Botes was able to share in the joy.
“I unfortunately didn’t attend the last leg as I was away in Japan, however the boys and everyone involved put in a massive effort to secure our spot on the circuit for next year,” said a delighted Botes.
“It was a tough few weeks in camp and across all three legs we have set some standards but have a lot of work to do for next year.
“I’m sure everyone involved over the last few months has learned a lot and has had a decent amount of exposure to help with the preparation for next year.”
The UAE steadily improved over the three legs. 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 slipped to Taipei in the Plate semi-finals before then falling to the Philippines in the play-off to come eighth.
The final weekend didn’t get off to a great start following a 34-0 defeat at the hands of Hong Kong at the Racecourse Stadium in Colombo.
But the UAE bounced back to beat Korea 24-17 in their next match. They went down to the tournament hosts early on Sunday, losing 35-10, but again recovered to win their maiden knockout game of the series, trouncing sorry Taipei 38-0 in the Plate semis.
That put them into the Plate final, guaranteeing them their best finish of the series, although they had to be content with sixth place after narrowly losing 19-14 to the Philippines.
South African Botes, for now, is concentrating on cheering his beloved Springboks to what he hopes will be Webb Ellis Cup success in the Land of the Rising Sun. But he is already casting an eye to the horizon and next year’s series.
“For myself it was an unbelievable experience to have played against all the professional athletes on the circuit and gave me motivation to work even harder now towards next year,” he added.
“The management and everyone involved behind the scenes has made it far more enjoyable than any other trip. I’m sure we will build our experience and look to better ourselves and look to grow as a squad over the next few months.
“It wasn’t the place we wanted to finish overall (seventh), however we have a lot of potential and we’re grateful for the opportunity to play the game we love and at such a high level. I’m sure we will come back next year and look to be top contenders on the Asia Sevens circuit.”
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