Dubai: The UAE Rugby Sevens team travels to the Borneo Sevens this weekend to kick off the four-leg Asian Rugby Sevens Series.
Coach Wayne Marsters is expecting a tougher campaign than the one the UAE finished ninth in last year, with teams preparing for next June’s World Cup in Russia.
After Saturday and Sunday’s series opener in Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia, the UAE will travel to Shanghai on September 22-23 and Mumbai on October 13-14. But they will skip Singapore in November, Asia’s World Cup qualifying event, because they are not yet full International Rugby Board (IRB) members.
Their ineligibility for the World Cup may also rule them out of their home World Sevens Series event, the Dubai Rugby Sevens in December, with the IRB preferring to utilise the series for competitive nations.
“It’s going to be a tough competition, what with this being a World Cup year and teams getting ready for qualification,” said Marsters. “But it’s a good opportunity for us to blood new players and find a fine line between development and results.”
In reference to UAE Rugby CEO Ian Bremner’s top-six Asian Sevens target, Marsters said: “Other teams have been together longer and are full time. Sixth will be a challenge but it’s realistic. We finished third in the Goa Sevens last year but there’s been a change of guard since then with retirements and injuries.”
“We’re starting over with our Sevens programme and investing time and effort back into those with links and connections to the region,” said Marsters, having named four Emiratis in his Borneo squad, with the sevens inclusion in the 2016 Olympics sparking a greater emphasis on local recruitment.
Duncan Hall, the UAE’s performance manager, said: “The big goal is to maintain ninth, but we’re in a dilemma whereby we don’t have a benchmark for what this current squad can do. Goa wasn’t a rankings tournament and there will be 12 teams in Borneo and Shanghai then 16 in Mumbai, so we have more games against a greater cross-section of competition.”
“It will be extremely difficult. What with the World Cup and the Olympics, other nations are investing hugely in sevens. We’re using it to broaden our player and skills base. If out of sevens we can improve our backs, it will help our 15s, because we’ll be judged more on our Asian Five Nations performance.” Hall added.
The UAE have been drawn in the third pool for Borneo with Thailand, Sri Lanka and Singapore.
Squad: 1. Steve Smith Dubai Hurricanes, 2. Emmad Reyal Dubai Exiles, 3. Cyrus Homayoun Jebel Ali Dragons, 4. Renier Els (C) Abu Dhabi Harlequins, 5. Andrew Russell Jebel Ali Dragons, 6. Mohammad Al Sulaiman Dubai Wasps, 7. Byron Kraemer Jebel Ali Dragons, 8. Mohannad Shaker Dubai Wasps, 9. Yousuf Shaker Dubai Wasps, 10 Jono Bester Dubai Wasps, 11. Callum Stevens Dubai Hurricanes, 12. Shaheer Reyal.