He may have just announced that he is leaving his post as national team head coach, but Roelof Kotze believes the UAE are in good hands with Apollo Perelini at the helm.
Perelini, a force of nature during a glittering professional career in both union and league with Samoa, has also made an impact on the coaching side of the game during his seven years in the UAE and will replace Kotze as head coach of the UAE 15s team.
He was roped in as part of Kotze’s coaching staff when the UAE played at the Asia Rugby Championship in Malaysia earlier this year, impressing as forwards coach.
The 46-year-old, who is head of PE at Repton School Dubai and runs his own rugby academy, has had a busy 2015, also accepting a position as the Shaheen head coach just a few months ago.
“Apollo will take over the 15s and I think that will be a very smooth transition in terms of having worked together already this year,” said Kotze, who announced on Saturday he was leaving the role he has occupied since January 2014.
“We think about rugby along very similar lines. With Apollo, he was pulled in on a very part-time basis and in a few months he has gone to taking over the Shaheen and now the head coach of the 15s.
“It’s a lot of work and more of a commitment from him than when I asked him to help me out, but he’ll be going flat out for that next year.”
As for Kotze, despite leaving his post while seemingly on the cusp of a real rugby revolution with the national team, he is proud when reflecting on his 22 months in charge.
“I would like to think the UAE has come forward as a rugby nation in my time here,” he said.
“The local guys have stepped up and there’s quite a few playing at a higher level now than they’ve played before.
“We’ve worked really hard on that and we’ve set up the Shaheen as a proper programme, with a team now playing in the 15s league.
“The national side started off badly last year with a loss against Singapore, but we’ve made amends this year. The players and clubs have really bought into what we’re trying to achieve and I think that’s why we had success this year in the Test matches.”
As for the sevens side, Kotze will be hoping to end his time in charge of the UAE on a high note as the UAE stand on the brink of securing a berth in the core eight Asian sevens teams, which has long been the South African’s dream.
“With the sevens, when we played last season with a full on Emirati squad, the guys were definitely making progress. We were starting to see the benefits, but the expats added that little bit of experience we didn’t have,” he said.
“That’s taken us over the top. We had been hoping for top eight and where we are sitting now is sixth place so that’s not what we expected. The boys are working very hard because they want to finish the job next week in Colombo.”
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