2015 Asian 5 Nations structure announced

Barnaby Read 23/04/2014
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Unbeatable: Japan (red) have overcome everyone in their path.

The UAE has today learnt that their Asian 5 Nations future remains in Division 1 as long as they can beat Singapore this evening in what will be their one and only competitive fixture of 2014.

As of next year the Top 5 teams will be reduced to three with the bottom two clubs joining the winners of UAE vs SIngapore and Kazakhstan and Chinese Taipei in Division 1.

The Asian Rugby Football Union (ARFU) announcement adds extra importance to this evening's fixture for new coach Roelef Kotze's side who face a complete unknown in Singapore.

ARFU President Trevor Gregory commented on the 2014 calendar, saying: “ARFU is excited at the prospect of another year of strong growth in Asian Rugby. 

"The culmination of the four-year Rugby World Cup qualification cycle will add an additional layer of depth and excitement for the season ahead and I offer my best wishes to all participating teams for a successful season.”

If the UAE are successful tonight two of the Philippines, South Korea, Japan, Hong Kong and Sri Lanka will join them in Division 1 next season although it is unlikely to be Japan.

Japan is again the heavy favourite to advance as Top 5 champions to their eighth consecutive Rugby World Cup and are unbeaten in the 5 Nations since its inception.

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UAE rugby community pull together to establish the Mike Ballard Foundation

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Unfortunate: Mike Balland (c) is currently recovering at his home in Michigan, US.

As Abu Dhabi Harlequins prop Mike Ballard continues his long road to recovery in America, he has not been forgotten by the friends he left behind in the UAE rugby community.

Far from it. There were messages of support for the stricken 29-year-old during the recent Bill McLaren Foundation All Star Challenge, while a group of his former team-mates and friends have set up a charity in his honour.

The Mike Ballard Foundation aims to raise awareness and money to offer the teacher and his family support both emotionally and financially.

Ballard remains in hospital in his native Michigan having suffered a spinal injury during the ARFU West Asia Champion Club final on April 4.

Feeling in his left leg continues to improve but it remains impossible to say whether he will be able to walk again.

While he is in hospital his parents have begun the task of making their house wheelchair-friendly for when Ballard is released as an in-patient and then continues his rehabilitation at home.

The foundation therefore aims to help raise some money to help in what will be an expensive process, starting with a ‘70s and ‘80s night at the Clubhouse in Zayed Sports City this Friday (April 25).

“The gravity (of the injury) dawned on everyone and we realised that this is going to be a long-term thing for Mike and his family and that they are going to need some support, both financially and emotionally,” said team-mate Ed Lewesy.

“We decided that we didn’t want it just to be a flash in the pan and obviously there was a lot of enthusiasm and good will, but if we did loads immediately it might exhaust it and dilute the cause.

“So we thought this had to be a relatively long-run thing and create a bit of a legacy because Mike made a massive impression in the three years that he’s been here.”

Lewesy added: “It’s still very early days and the will to help from people has been amazing.”

Friday’s fundraiser gets under way at 19:00 and there will be a barbecue laid on for guests, with advanced tickets available for Dh200, while entry on the day itself will cost Dh225.

All the proceeds will be sent to Mike and his family in America.

Further events have been provisionally planned throughout the rest of the year and into 2015, witha rugby league game due to take place in Abu Dhabi on May 16 and a golf day and dinner pencilled in for September.

And the foundation is hopeful that the wider community will get involved.

“We want this to be more than an exclusively rugby thing, it is open to everyone,” Lewesy added. “He was not just a rugby player; his job was a teacher, he was heavily into music, he was part of a folk group, he did a bit of work with Noukhada, the kayaking group, and he also played a bit of softball on a social level.”

Ballard remains upbeat as he continues his long journey back to health and the 29-year-old hopes to be back at work, with the New England Center for Children with Autism, within six months.

“I spoke to him (earlier this week) and he’s in good spirits,” Lewesy said. “He’s getting on with his rehab and he’s also got a moustache. It’s his rehab moustache.

“He is proud of it and he grows a fine moustache as well.”

What: Mike Ballard Foundation events
Where: 70s and 80s night, The Clubhouse, Zayed Sports City
When: Friday, from 19:00 with events continuing throughout the year.
Contact: For more information, please contact Ed Lewesy on 050 788 6519 or Eileen Siegal on 056 772 3010

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Adel Al Hendi's rapid rugby rise

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Great growth: Al Hendi (c) picks up his best young Emirati player award at the inaugural UAE Rugby Player Awards.

Adel Al Hendi is ready to make his mark on the international stage as he lines up for the UAE’s winner-takes-all Asian 5 Nations Division I clash with Singapore at 7he Sevens tonight (kick-off 19:30).

The 18-year-old Emirati wing, who discovered rugby thanks to a Welsh uncle, is one of six new caps selected to start performance manager Roelof Kotze’s first Test.

It is a remarkable rise for Al Hendi, who only started taking the game seriously when he was 15 but was playing senior rugby two years later with the Abu Dhabi Harlequins second side.

This season has seen the youngster break into the Shaheen sevens development squad, and having impressed Kotze he became a shoe-in for 15-a-side selection too.

“It’s unbelievable,” Al Hendi said of representing his country.

“I was looking at an article from a few years ago. It was something to do with young player of the week and they asked me what my aspirations were and I said that I wanted to play for the UAE in a Test match. 

“Two years down the line I finally get my chance and starting on the wing is just unbelievable.”

Given his tender years it is somewhat surprising to find Al Hendi using the word “finally” to describe his ascent to the national side, but he is clearly a man confident in his abilities on the rugby pitch. 

“I think I’ve proven myself in the sevens set-up and now to get a chance with the XVs; I can’t put it into words, I’m so happy,” he added.

Al Hendi’s delight will be peaked if the UAE can secure the win over Singapore that guarantees their place in Division I for another year. “The boys feel ready,” he said.

“There’s a lot at stake, it’s win and we stay here or lose and we go down a division. I think a lot of the boys have got a lot to prove, not just to people in the UAE but all of Asia that we can be a competitive team and that in the near future we will be quite destructive.”

Asian domination would not have been at the front of Al Hendi’s mind when he was playing pick-up games with his uncle during summer visits to his mother’s family home in Neath.

It is in the Welsh town, home to the “Welsh All Blacks”, that his interest began but it is in Abu Dhabi where his game was developed, with the teenager citing former Quins director of rugby Chris Davies and one-time team-mate Clendon Pene as influential.

There will also be some familiar faces with club-mates Graham Murphy and Chris Jones-Griffiths also in Kotze’s squad. “I’m quite comfortable playing with those boys, they’re great players Graham and Chris,” Al Hendi added. 

“I’m not too worried, it’s quite a new team that has come together this year and I’m just buzzing to get on the pitch and prove myself and I’m sure everyone is keen to do the same.”

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