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.”
Roelof Kotze will step down from his role as UAE national team head coach and performance manager after the final leg of the Asia Rugby Sevens Series in Sri Lanka later this month.
The South African’s departure after nearly two years in the job was announced yesterday, with the 45-year-old to take up a position as amateur rugby manager with the Pumas, who play in the Currie Cup Premier Division in his homeland.
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Kotze believes the UAE have developed as a rugby nation in his time in the role and he is determined to go out on a high by securing a spot in Asia’s top eight sevens nations when the third and final leg of the Series is played in Colombo between October 10-11.
After claiming ninth place in China on the Series’ opening leg at the start of September, the UAE finished sixth in Thailand a week ago, putting Kotze’s mixed band of Emirati and expatriates on the cusp of sevens glory.
“I’ve really enjoyed my time here and I would like to think the UAE has come forward as a rugby nation in that time,” Kotze told Sport360.
“I’ve really enjoyed working with the players and coaches. The guy’s have really made progress.
“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.
“It was a difficult start here. There were some old loyalties to associations and federations but it’s all changed and the whole rugby community has bought into what we’ve tried to achieve.”
Earlier this year, Kotze also led the UAE Test team to two victories in Division II of the Asia Rugby Championships against Chinese Taipei and Thailand.
They missed out on promotion to Division I by the slimmest of margins, a 20-19 for hosts Malaysia sending them up at the UAE’s expense, but it was an improvement on the previous season when defeat to Singapore had seen them relegated from Asia’s second tier.
“It’s been very rewarding in that sense and the success the Test team has had this year and now the sevens team too, they are the cherries on the top,” added Kotze.
“The national side started off badly last year, 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.
Former Samoa dual code international rugby star Apollo Perelini, who was brought in on a temporary basis for the Asia tour in May, will now assume head coaching responsibilities for the national 15s side.
Entering the top eight of sevens nations in Asia has long been a dream of Kotze and he admits there are both personal and collective gains to achieve in Colombo next weekend.
“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 and we’ve done really well. We’d been hoping for top eight and where we’re sitting now is sixth so that’s not what we expected. The boys are now working very hard because they want to finish the job next week.
“I also want to go out on a high too, absolutely. It becomes a far more important tournament than it perhaps was when we started planning the season.
“It was ‘let’s get to the top eight and do well’. Now it’s the last one I’ll be doing and I want to end on a high and the team has higher expectations than we had before.
“I think we’ve sent this ship of ours onto a route that can be very successful in the future.”
“We are very proud of this appointment for Roelof,” said UAE Rugby Federation secretary general Qais Al Dhalai.
“The Pumas sought him out, highlighting to us that his experience with developing our Emirati players, as well as his efforts with the national teams (15’s, men’s 7’s and Ubder-19’s), combined with his solid background and qualifications are what they need in their drive to grow their union, and its players.
“We wish him the very best for a successful future and will be keenly watching the growth of the Pumas.”
A much-changed Exiles earned the Dubai bragging rights as they beat Hurricanes 26-9 in the city derby on Friday night.
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After a scrappy 14-5 triumph against Jebel Ali Dragons on opening night, new head coach Jacques Benade was happy to see a more fluid performance from his men against Canes, who had swept to a 32-14 win against Al Ain Amblers a week ago.
Exiles built an early 9-0 lead at 7he Sevens thanks to three Durandt Gerber penalties. Canes reduced the gap to 9-6 with two penalties of their own before Exiles clicked into gear.
Scrum-half Ed Armitage scored the game’s first try while centre Kenneth du Plessis, one of a whole host of new names Benade has introduced, also went over, with Gerber converting both and adding another penalty for a 16-point haul.
Prior to the game Benade had labelled his side as underdogs, so he was delighted with his side’s performance.
“Two from two, which is brilliant for us. Perhaps we were maybe a bit more structured and clever,” said the South African. “The backs played really well and our scrum and line-out was excellent, it was a good all-round performance.”
Benade is refusing to get carried away though and is sticking to his plan of wanting to win each game as it comes, which is probably a sensible idea as Exiles now face five away games on the bounce, starting with successive trips to Abu Dhabi where they face Saracens next week before facing Harlequins in two weeks’ time.
“I don’t think we would have been given a chance beforehand so maybe the lads will start believing now in what we want to do,” said Benade. “I’m delighted to see that the hard work is starting to come off and I’m delighted with this win.”