UAE ‘are get­ting close’

Cap­tain Bol­ger says his side are a work in progress af­ter fi­nal warm-up game as they pre­pare for four-team tour­na­ment

The National - News - Sport - - LEADINGOFF - Paul Radley

SHAR­JAH // UAE cap­tain Ben Bol­ger said his side have much work still to do de­spite their im­proved form in a win over the Premier­ship Bar­bar­ians at Shar­jah Wan­der­ers.

For the se­cond week­end run­ning, the na­tional team fell be­hind to a scratch side that had been cob­bled to­gether to give them some op­po­si­tion ahead of the vi­tal Tests to come next month.

The UAE will be pit­ted against Malaysia, Sri Lanka and the Philip­pines in the Asia Rugby Cham­pi­onship Di­vi­sion 1, start­ing on May 14.

Win that and they will be pro­moted to the top tier of con­ti­nen­tal rugby for the first time since 2012, where they would meet the might of Hong Kong and South Korea.

They will have been en­cour­aged by the way they bounced back twice af­ter strug­gling early, first against Con­fer­ence Bar­bar­ians on April 21 and yes­ter­day against a side made up of the best play­ers from the Premier­ship in Shar­jah.

Ian Over­ton and Saki Naisau gave the Premier­ship team a 10-0 lead. The UAE found a gear and were com­fort­able win­ners thanks to tries from Jaen Botes, Luke Steven­son, Win­ston Cowie and Sean Carey, who was de­nied an­other when a high tackle on him led to a penalty try in­stead. “We ab­sorbed some pres­sure in the first 20 min­utes,” Bol­ger said. “They played some typ­i­cal Bar­bar­ians rugby, throw­ing the ball about, and we were our own worst en­emy in terms of giv­ing away penal­ties.

“We built into the game and even­tu­ally it was a very good per­for­mance from our boys. The Bar­bar­ians haven’t had much time to­gether, but I think it showed how close we are get­ting.”

There was much to en­cour­age coach Apollo Pere­lini about the per­for­mance be­fore he cuts the squad down from 32 play­ers to 27 for the trip to Malaysia.

Botes was a pow­er­ful pres­ence at No 8, Steven­son was flaw­less with the boot and Andy Powell, the new­comer from Dubai Hur­ri­canes, made some elec­tric breaks from out­side cen­tre.

“The boys are buy­ing in to what we want to do,” Bol­ger said. “Ev­ery­thing we have spo­ken about in train­ing we are do­ing.

“I have played in teams be­fore where we say we are go­ing to do a load of stuff, then we don’t ac­tu­ally put it out on the field. I’d say we are where we want to be, but we still have a lot of work to do.” The fact the UAE have been pushed twice by league se­lect XVs speaks vol­umes for the qual­ity of the do­mes­tic at present, and the likes of Naisau, An­drew Semple and Pa­trick Jenk­in­son in par­tic­u­lar would have strong claims to a place in the na­tional team were they not re­cently ar­rived in the coun­try.

“It shows the stan­dard of the Premier­ship at the mo­ment is pretty phe­nom­e­nal,” said Abu Dhabi Har­lequins coach Mike McFar­lane, who took charge of the Premier­ship XV for the oc­ca­sion.

“I said all along when I was asked to do this that it would be a great op­por­tu­nity to work with some fan­tas­tic play­ers.

“But the over­ar­ch­ing goal was to give the na­tional team as stiff a test as pos­si­ble be­fore the three Test matches com­ing up.

“If they can do what they are ca­pa­ble of, and earn pro­mo­tion to the top di­vi­sion, it will do won­ders for the union.”

Satish Ku­mar / The Na­tional

The UAE na­tional team, in red, fought back from two tries down to de­feat Premier­ship Bar­bar­ians last night.

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