A few days after cricket's T20 World Cup concluded just across the Dubai Sports City complex, the UAE’s leading rugby players will go for qualification to a global event of their own this weekend.
The national team will be bidding to make it to the Rugby World Cup Sevens 2022 in Cape Town next year, via the Dialog Asia Sevens Series.
The two finalists in the two-day, eight-team competition will qualify for the main event in South Africa next September.
The home team have been drawn in a group with the giants of rugby on the continent, Japan, as well as Sri Lanka and China.
“Our preparations have been excellent,” Apollo Perelini, the UAE coach, said.
“The challenge I have is that the players are full time at work, and I only get them in the evenings.
“It has been a good process. The boys now are really geared up for the tournament and are looking forward to it.”
If evidence were needed as to the size of the task facing the amateur players of host nation, consider the case of Japan’s captain Johnny Fa’auli.
The 26-year-old centre played 16 matches of Super Rugby for the Chiefs, including when the New Zealand franchise were semifinalists in the 2017 season.
“It’s my first time ever being captain of a rugby team,” Fa’auli said. “I am quite exited. We have a lot of experience in the team and I will always lean on the boys who are way more experienced than me.
“We come here with the aim of winning the tournament, and the result of doing that, or coming second, is to qualify for the World Cup next year.
“That is a really big focus for us, but we know there is a lot of work which needs to be done.”
Asia Rugby have postponed the Sevens Trophy tournament, which had been scheduled to take place next weekend.
The event will be pushed back to March 2022 as a result of “evolving operational costs” which has led to “all budget aspects to increase within the range from 70 per cent to 100 per cent”, according to Qais Al Dhalai, the Asia Rugby president.
“While the decision is extremely disappointing for teams and rugby fraternity, it has all the right reasons at heart and we will ensure a better version of the Sevens Trophy is staged in March 2022,” Al Dhalai said.
Rugby World Cup Sevens 2022, Asia Qualifier
Friday and Saturday, at Dubai Sports City
Day one UAE fixtures
3.04pm v China
6.14pm v Sri Lanka
9.02pm v Japan
Esekaia Dranibuta, Blair Cochrane, Ethan Matthews, Luke Stevenson, Epeli Davetawalu, Jaen Botes, Andrew Semple, Boris Finck, Matt Richards, Carel Thomas, Robbie Sproul, Sakiusa Naisau, Tobias Oakeley