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