Apollo Perelini says UAE want to make up for lost time as they return to competitive rugby for the first time in two years, against Guam on Wednesday.
The Asia Rugby Championship Division 2 fixture in Thailand is the national team’s first official assignment since Division 1 of the continent’s competitions ladder in 2017.
Even though they were due to remain in that tier last year, the UAE Rugby Federation withdrew the side from competition. Instead, they played a single, friendly match against Gibraltar in 2018.
Now they have been reinstated, at the third level of Asian rugby. It is some way short of where Perelini believes they should be, and the coach says his side are intent on climbing back up the rankings.
“We were disappointed we didn’t get to compete last year,” Perelini said. “We haven’t been in this division for three years now, and the boys are really looking forward to it.
“The squad is strong, we have a lot of firepower, and the players are really buying in to how we want to play.
“We have got some big boys in the team this year, bigger than I have ever had, and it probably the best squad I have assembled.”
The winners between UAE and Guam will face the victors of a fixture between Thailand and Kazakhstan in Saturday’s final.
While UAE are confident, there is reason to be cautious. Back in 2011, UAE and Kazakhstan finished third and fourth respectively in the very top tier of Asian rugby.
That was the national team’s first campaign after the disbandment of the Arabian Gulf, the union which previously represented the region in rugby.
At that time, Kazakhstan appeared set to become a force in the game on the continent. Their progress has been stalled, though, and they have only sporadically even entered the competition since.
UAE have faced challenges of their own in that time, tasting both promotion, relegation, and then last year’s withdrawal.
Despite that, though, Perelini says the appetite for representing the national team in at an all-time high.
“I think the attitude towards representing UAE has changed dramatically,” Perelini said. “The amount of emails I get from players to say they are available at this time is huge.
“When you get quality players who become eligible through the three-year residency rule, it really helps with building a stronger squad.
“We really want to go through and win this one, go back up to Division 1, and hopefully compete the following year to try to get into the championship, which I feel that we really belong in.
“If we can get the job done [against Guam] and then prepare well for the last game on Saturday, then we can hopefully look forward to some good things next year."