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.”
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