The UAE signed off from their tour to Malaysia with a hard earned 16-12 win over Chinese Taipei, though Roelof Kotze’s men will wonder what might have been.
Triumph in their third and final match was tinged with regret as a 46-point win for Malaysia over Thailand secured their promotion to Division I at the UAE’s expense.
Despite failing to bounce back to the second tier of Asian rugby at the first attempt, following relegation in 2014, the UAE will still take plenty of positives away from the Far East, not least the fact the win secured their Division II status.
Defeat would have seen the UAE suffer back to back relagations and a campaign in Division III.
“The game was played in extremely difficult conditions and having three players off the pitch with yellows showed how deep we had to dig to grind out a win,” said captain Adam Telford.
“The atmosphere is very positive and although we didn’t win all three there are a lot of pluses to take away from this tournament.
The UAE Squad celebrate their win over Chinese Taipei to stay in Asia Rugby Championship Div 2 next year pic.twitter.com/As5W1eaaA4
— Matthew Oakley (@MatthewOakley5) May 16, 2015
“There is a buzz back about UAE rugby and the foundations are now set for next year. We have a great set of guys who will hopefully be involved next year.”
The UAE held their nerve in monsoon conditions to claim a gritty win, despite the fact Taipei knocked on with the try-line at their mercy with what proved to be the last action of the game. Referee Charlie Brown blowing the final whistle after the move broke down.
The game at the Stadium Petaling Jaya in Kuala Lumpur was preceded by heavy thunderstorms, with the fear of lightning threatening the game’s completion in the early stages.
With the game underway, it was the UAE that struck first after Jebel Ali Dragons centre Michael Botha collected 30 metres out and handing off two defenders before touching down.
Matt Hutchings failed to convert and Taipei went on to score two tries through flanker Wei-Ming Lin and Lun-Wei Chang, the second converted by Yuan-Che Hsueh, to hand them a 12-5 lead.
Malaysia’s 53-7 rout of Thailand in the latter game means they will be promoted to Division I next season instead of Roelof Kotze’s men
— Matt Jones (@MattJones360) May 16, 2015
Hassan Al Noobi’s penalty reduced the deficit to 12-8 at the interval but the odds were stacked against the UAE when first Niall Statham and then Phil Brady were sin-binned in quick succession.
Despite being down to 13 men, the UAE regained the advantage when their most capped player, Chris Jones-Griffiths, crashed over from a lineout maul. Another missed conversion meant they could not go further ahead but at 13-12 Kotze’s men had their noses in front.
Al Noobi’s second penalty stretched that advantage to four, with the UAE withstanding heavy pressure thereafter. A scrappy affair then saw two Taipei players yellow carded and Andrew Carphin became the third UAE player sin-binned.
Although there will be disappointment, the late knock-on at least secured their status next season, while Kotze’s charges will perhaps look on another season in Division II as a blessing in disguise.
“The game was tough. We started well but let them back in through some errors. The conditions played a part but we managed to grind out the result,” said Jones-Griffiths.
Emirates Airline UAE National XV’s team narrowly lost their second game in their Asia Rugby Championship (ARC) campaign by a single point on Wednesday as they were defeated 19-20 by hosts Malaysia.
The UAE side’s aim in the 2015 ARC campaign was to win all 3 matches, which would have clinched the Division 2 trophy and secured promotion to Division 1 for the 2016 ARC.
UAE won their opening game against Thailand 53-22 and now face Chinese Taipei, who also has a win and a loss, on Saturday May 16th in a must-win game if they are to secure 2nd place in Division 2.
UAE National Coach and Performance Manager, Roelof Kotze, said: “We are disappointed with the result against Malaysia and have spent the last two days fixing weaknesses and mistakes in our structures and systems.
“We are aiming to finish strong and come home with a second victory.”
— ROELOF KOTZE (@coachroelof) May 13, 2015
— Apollo Perelini (@Apollo11Rugby) May 13, 2015
Also commenting on the loss, Qais Al Dhalai, UAE Rugby Federation Secretary General added: “We have mixed emotions, at this point, in our ARC campaign.
“From our resounding win against Thailand we saw that the direction and efforts Coach Roelof and his coaching team (Apollo Perelini and Stephen Thompson) have taken has paid dividends with the players and how they approached the game.
“Unfortunately in our game against Malaysia these efforts were not rewarded. However, we are extremely proud of every member of the team, their attitude, commitment and dedication to playing under the UAE flag.”
Two departing Dubai Exiles players are aiming high – to one day play in France’s Top 14 to be precise.
The club’s player of the season Rynardt van Wyk, 24, and teenage starlet Ed Venter, 17, have both been snapped up by French third tier team AS Macon.
Macon, based near Lyon, finished fifth in Pool 2 of the Federale 1 this season, which is the highest level of amateur rugby in France, a tier below the Rugby Pro D2 league and two below the Top 14.
The South African duo had standout seasons in the UAE, Van Wyk nominated for the prestigious Player of the Season accolade at the UAE Rugby Annual Awards, while Venter was in the running for the Best Youth Expat Player of the Season.
All-action Van Wyk, a former professional who played for the Sharks and Bulldogs as well as for the Springbok 7s back home, says he is determined to make it to France’s elite echelon of rugby.
“I have got a big goal. I want to play in the Top 14,” said the Johannesburg native. I’m sure, if I put in the hard work, I can make it happen. I’m going for this.”
Van Wyk travelled to eastern-central France for a 10-day trial in April but was handed a two-year senior contract after just two days.
“The coaches on that side (France) are confident I’ll make it.”
The powerful forward arrived in the UAE eight months ago and he has enjoyed his maiden season with Exiles, whose first team coach Gareth Venter, Ed’s father, helped to get him a job with his own firm, GammaTec.
“When I was back home I was playing under pressure and you sometimes forget what the games are about. If you get contracted you’re so excited but after the second year it just becomes like a day job. I almost forgot how to enjoy the game.”
Exiles team-mate George Perkins and coach Venter, however, convinced him to give Perkins’ brother Reggie, a recruiter in France, a call.
“I said I was here to work. It was a career change because I’d been playing rugby all my life, but I will approach this differently.”
Van Wyk’s successful trip led to a trial for his young club mate, who also impressed, and was given a three-year academy contract. Both start their new lives on July 1.
Van Wyk has high hopes for a man he considers family.
“I think he (Ed) will do fantastic. He’s got great commitment, a big heart and he’s cool headed,” said Van Wyk. “He’ll have me to look after him like a big brother. His father’s been like a father to me.”
The teenage full-back is also aiming high.
Venter broke into the Exiles’ first team this season and says playing and training alongside Van Wyk has inspired him.
“Rynardt changed me a lot. He coached me to be a better player.”
Venter senior admits their departure fills him with immense pride.
He said: “No-one’s ever bigger than the game of rugby and for the youngsters to live out their hopes and dreams, for the coaches that have helped develop them there’s nothing more gratifying than that. These guys have to go and live their dream.”