Asian Five Nations: Going from rugby coach to player, UAE's Harry Woods has it in reverse
DUBAI // The pathway from international player to national team coach is a natural and well-trodden one in sport.
However, doing it the other way around is about as rare as snowflakes on Jumeirah Beach.
Harry Woods will complete what is surely a unique journey this afternoon when he makes his debut as an international rugby player - five years after coaching a different nation in the same competition.
The Dubai Hurricanes player lines up at inside centre for his first Test in UAE colours against South Korea in Al Ain on Friday afternoon.
He may bear a few pre-match nerves, but he should have some idea of what to expect.
The 33-year-old New Zealander was the backs coach for the Singapore side who won promotion to the top flight of the Asian Five Nations back in 2008.
A serious knee injury precluded his involvement as a player back then.
His loss then has turned out to be a boon for the UAE in the long term.
Having moved to Dubai a little over three years ago to work as sales director for a New Zealand dairy company, he is now qualified to represent the national team.
And as one of the stand-out backs in the domestic game, his elevation to the starting XV has seemed inevitable for some time now.
"I came to the UAE with work, wanted to join a rugby club and joined the Hurricanes straight away," Woods said.
"That was just to keep playing rugby competitively and to meet some people.
"I have managed to hold my own over a couple of years and am still relatively injury free. The opportunity is there and I am really keen to have a go."
Ironically, Woods has been handed his debut at the expense of his club coach, Chris Burch, who has dropped down to the replacements bench after starting in Hong Kong on Saturday.
He will be flanked in the UAE midfield by George Perkins, who replaces James Ham at stand-off, and Ross Combe, the Al Ain Amblers outside-centre.
"Harry has a lot of skills and a lot of maturity and now this opportunity has come up for him," said Duncan Hall, the UAE performance manager.
"We want him to play his natural game and not put any extra pressure on him. A few players last week had some nerves and that showed during the game."
The national team have targeted this fixture, as well as the final match of the competition against the Philippines in Manila next month, as their best chances of success.
Despite the disappointment of the 57-8 defeat in their opening fixture in Hong Kong six weeks ago, Hall believes his side are stronger now than when they set out on this campaign.
"The first game away gives you a few more days of bonding and being together," Hall said.
"We are a bit stronger and a lot wiser."
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Published: April 25, 2013 04:00 AM