Asian 5 Nations: UAE’s rookie wingers face stern test against Singapore

The fact the UAE will only play one Test this season, as Asian rugby gets set to be revamped, means Sargent, Al Hendi and colleagues will be treating it as a cup final.

The Dubai Exiles winger and expatriate Charlie Sargent will make his UAE debut for his adopted ‘home’ against Singapore, the country of his birth. Sarah Dea / The National
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DUBAI // The substantial overhaul of the national team ahead of tonight’s meeting with Singapore has meant the UAE will start with teenaged debutants on the wings.

Adel Al Hendi, the highly rated Emirati player from Abu Dhabi, starts on the left and Charlie Sargent, the speedy Dubai Exiles back, is handed a first cap on the right.

While Sargent’s passport says he is from the UK, he is proud to be making his international bow for the country he considers to be home.

That said, his progression in rugby is best plotted with an atlas. When he takes the field against Singapore, he will be playing against the country of his birth. Singapore was also the first place he toured with a representative side, when he was part of the Arabian Gulf age-group side when he was 14.

Having spent various stages of his childhood in Abu Dhabi, Doha, Saudi and the UK, he has settled back in Dubai, where he spent seven seasons as a youth team player for the Exiles.

The fact the UAE will only play one Test in his debut season, as Asian rugby gets set to be revamped, means Sargent and his colleagues will be treating it as a cup final.

“From what we have heard, Singapore are a physical and fast side,” said Sargent, 19, who will start work with a property services company at the end of the rugby season.

“We are working round that, making sure we make our possession count.

“It makes it more important that there is only one match. There are a lot of guys who have been training all year to play for the UAE, and they don’t want to muck it up.

“If the older guys only get one chance to play for the UAE, they don’t want to be saying later on that their first Test cap was a loss.”

A new start in the second tier of Asian rugby after last year’s relegation has had a discernible effect on morale, according to Chris Burch, one of the survivors from last year’s side.

The Dubai Hurricanes fly-half said that even with minimal information about their opposition, it is pleasing to know the playing field will be more level than it was in the top flight. “It feels good to have young kids there like Charlie as we are nurturing players for the future,” Burch said.

“It is exciting going in to a game not knowing what the opposition is going to be like, rather than going in to matches against Japan knowing we were going to lose.”

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