UAE thrash Thailand to win Asia Rugby Championship Division 2 final

National team scored eight tries as they ran out 50-12 over hosts in Hua Hin

Kini Natuna in action at Asia Rugby Championship Division 2 match between UAE and Guam. courtesy of Asia Rugby
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The UAE sealed a return to the second tier of continental rugby with a resounding win over Thailand in the final of Asia Rugby Championship Division 2 on Saturday.

The national team scored eight tries as they thrashed the host nation 50-12 in Hua Hin in southern Thailand.

Stephen Ferguson, Kini Natuna and Matt Richards led the way with two tries apiece, while captain Luke Stevenson and Jaen Botes also crossed.

The tournament victory marked an eye-catching return to Test-match rugby after a two-year hiatus for the Emirates.

Despite losing all three matches and finishing bottom of Division 1 back in 2017, UAE had been due to stay in that tier of the game a year later.

Relegation was shelved due to a slight restructuring of the competition, on account of the qualifying process for the World Cup later this year, with Japan vacating the top division.

However, the UAE Rugby Federation then withdrew the national team from participation in competitive rugby last year anyway. As such, they were readmitted at the third level on their return to competition this season.

The team clearly suffered little for their extended time away. First of all, they started their Division 2 campaign by thrashing Guam 82-7 in a polished opener on Wednesday.

After that 12-try thrashing, they began the final in the same fashion to which they had left off two days earlier, with a sparkling first-half display.

The Guam success was the biggest winning margin in the eight-year history of UAE rugby, but they appeared on course to better that as they reached the halfway point of the final 45-0 up.

Ferguson, the Dubai Exiles lock who was making his first start for the national team, opened the scoring after stealing a line-out on the Thai throw in just the third minute.

After Natuna added two more to the brace he scored on Wednesday, Ferguson added his second 28 minutes in.

Richards scored two either side of one for Botes, whose try took his tally to five for the week, making the Dubai Exiles No 8 the leading scorer in the tournament.

The scoring slowed in the second half, though, as the humid conditions began to show on a touring side who had made their greater bulk tell in the opening phase.

Stevenson’s second half-try – to go with the 10 points he landed from the kicking tee – was the UAE’s lone score after the break, compared to two for the hosts.

Assuming they choose to enter the competition again next year, the UAE return to the division they last played in in 2017.

They lost all three matches in Division 1 back then, but they will be targeting success and promotion back to the top tier of Asian rugby in 2021.

The three-team top tier started on Wednesday, with South Korea beating Malaysia 52-14 in Incheon. Hong Kong, who are the defending champions, are the other team in that league, with Japan again not entered into the Championship, as they focus on their home World Cup later this year.