The UAE limped to seventh place in the first-leg of the Asia Rugby Under-20 Sevens Series in Malaysia on Sunday, winning just two of their six matches all weekend – both against Kazakhstan.
Their dreams of a podium finish were dashed in the very first game of the final day, Roelof Kotze’s charges taking the lead against Sri Lanka, before the eventual tournament runners-up stormed back to win convincingly, 33-7.
The UAE youngsters then lost 26-7 in the second tier Plate semi-final against Thailand, before signing off with a 22-15 win against Kazakhstan to claim seventh place.
Ended on an up! Beat Kazakhstan for 7th place finish! Planned for top 4, not what we wanted! Hard work this week! Hong Kong next week!
— ROELOF KOTZE (@coachroelof) August 16, 2015
“We’re absolutely gutted,” said UAE captain Adel Al Hendi. “We could easily have finished in the top four and we know we let this slip so badly.”
Fijian Jeremaia Kilicanasau got the UAE off to a perfect start in Johor on the second day, the diminutive Al Ain Amblers man going over for a try before Devante Steele’s conversion gave Kotze’s men a 7-0 lead.
However, that was as good as it got for the men from the Emirates, Buddima Kudachchige, Joseph Dixon, Nishon Perera, Sithum Peiris and Prinse Ravisinghe responding to comfortably send the Sri Lankans through to the semi-finals.
Thailand had lost all four games and finished bottom of Pool A prior to meeting the UAE in the Plate semi, but surged to victory by four tries to one.
Steele crossed for the UAE and converted his own try, but a Peerapol Chukoun brace and tries from Wuttipong Sakulthianthong and Yordsakon Watcharakongsak saw Thailand through to the Plate final, which they won by beating Singapore 22-5.
The weekend at least ended on a high for the UAE as they enjoyed a four tries to three victory over Kazakhstan, who they beat in the pool stages on Friday.
Kilicanasau was on the scoresheet again, so too Kip Chirchir, who added to his hat-trick against Singapore on Saturday. Tuharangi Kahuranui and Tomasi Tirikula also scored, the latter right at the death to seal the win and put a gloss on the tournament for the UAE.
“We showed that we were very good with possession against Sri Lanka and scored the first try,” added skipper Al Hendi.
“There wasn’t much they could do to defend but we gave away silly mistakes and once they had the ball they were too fast and our defensive line wasn’t pushing them hard enough to close them down.
“Thailand was the worst game we played all weekend, as we thought it would be an easy game. Fitness was lacking by then, we weren’t reacting quickly enough and getting back onside.”
Despite the setback, the 20-year-old Abu Dhabi Harlequins’ winger remains upbeat ahead of the Series’ second-leg in Hong Kong next weekend.
“I guarantee we’ll go to Hong Kong knowing we need to come out firing to make it easier for ourselves and to keep us on a high,” he said. “Nobody likes to lose but it depends on your mindset and how you pick yourself up after it.”
The UAE have announced their squad to take part in the Asia Rugby Under 20 Sevens Series later this month.
Roelof Kotze’s young charges will play in both legs of the Series, the first taking place in Malaysia this weekend (August 15-16), the second a week later (August 21-22).
— Sport360° (@Sport360) August 9, 2015
UAE performance manager Kotze has picked 13 players in his squad, eight Emiratis and five expatriates.
The squad has a heavy Al Ain Amblers presence, with eight of the squad coming from the Garden City club.
The Amblers’ contingent includes Emiratis Hamad Al Shkeili, Younes Al Blooshi, Khalid Al Junaibi and Abdulla Al Shkeili, as well as expats Jeremaia Kilicanasau and Tomasi Tirikula, both Fijian, American Devante Steele and Iranian Ebrahim Doraee.
Abu Dhabi Harlequins’ Adel Al Hendi, Dubai Exiles’ Fahad Sabt and unnattached Majid Al Balooshi complete the local player quota.
Unnattached Kenyan Kipruto Chirchir and Heartbeat Tigers’ New Zealander Tuharangi Kahukuranui round up the expat group.
The UAE will play hosts Malaysia and Hong Kong and are also scheduled to face the likes of Thailand, Chinese Taipei, South Korea and Kazakhstan in the coming weeks.
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Kotze is permitted to take a 12-man squad to each tournament but has named 13 players as he is expecting there to be visa issues for one player in Hong Kong.
Having competed well on their last outing in Hong Kong in December, winning just two of seven games but losing three by only two points, the South African has stated previously that he is aiming for at least one podium place from the two legs of the Series.
“We really want to compete and get in the medals this time and I think we’re on course for that,” said Kotze.
“We have a lot more confidence going into this. Training’s really pleased me. The guys worked hard and have given their all, which always pleases me.
“We’ve worked on the mistakes that led to losing games we shouldn’t have last time, so we’re quietly confident.”
West Asia Cup champions Abu Dhabi Saracens will compete against the best teams from West Asia in the inaugural Asia Rugby Western Clubs Champions League next month.
The tournament will feature four champions from 2015’s cross border or domestic competitions from the UAE-Gulf, Sri Lanka and Kazakhstan, the winners being crowned the champion club in West Asia.
Sarries will come up against Sri Lanka Dialog Rugby League champions Kandy, Kazakhstan National League winners Olymp, as well as familiar foes Doha, the Qatar club qualifying as Gulf Top 6 champions.
Doha will host Sarries in the Qatari capital, the scene of the Al Ghazal men’s 26-20 West Asia triumph, on Friday, September 11, with Kandy facing Olymp in Dubai the following day.
Sarries welcome Kandy to Abu Dhabi on Tuesday, September 15, Doha hosting Olymp the same day.
The final fixtures will both be held in Dubai on Friday, September 18, with Sarries taking on Olymp and Kandy playing Doha.
Asia Rugby president, Trevor Gregory, said the union plans to host a similar tournament in East Asia, in the hope that the winners of each will meet to contest the title of being Asia’s best team outside of the Japan Top League.
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“Asia Rugby sees this new, annual competition as the bridge between senior domestic and international representative rugby and hopes it will give clubs the chance to compete for this prestigious new title,” he said.
“Asia Rugby also hopes this will provide a new opportunity for clubs to further engage new players, supporters, volunteers and sponsors.
“Asia Rugby hope to develop the competition further to embrace more clubs and replicate it in the Eastern half of Asia, with the ultimate aim of having a play-off between the western and eastern winners to determine an overall Asia champion.”