UAE’s XVs programme gets fresh legs

Much of the malaise in the 15-a-side code has been brought about by poor availability. Since the advent of the UAE team, many talented players have often opted out.

Abu Dhabi Saracens, in red and black, in action during the Gulf Top Six tournament in February 2015. Delores Johnson / The National
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The UAE's XVs programme has enjoyed a boost after the squad began preparations for the 2015 Test season five months ahead of the first match.
A group of aspiring national team players met for the first time last week, as Roelof Kotze, the performance manager, looks to build a side to compete in two competitions in Malaysia in the summer.
The national team will be playing in the third division of the new Asian rugby competition structure, along with Malaysia, Thailand and Chinese Taipei in May. The UAE will then play for the first time in the Crescent Cup the following month, also in Kuala Lumpur.
"It is a good thing for us that we have been able to push XVs a little bit more," Kotze said.
"Having more XVs matches is a good vehicle for us to push the game forward.
"Sevens has allowed us to play on the international stage and get guys some experience.
"But the 15-a-side game is an important part of rugby. There are a lot of guys who can't play sevens, and this gives those guys the opportunity to play at international level as well."
Even though the standard of the domestic league has been rapidly improving in the recent past, representative rugby in this country has been on a downward spiral for years.
The national team has suffered successive relegations. Having started in the top flight of Asian rugby, the UAE will be playing third-tier rugby this season.
Much of the malaise has been brought about by poor availability. Since the advent of the UAE team, which took over the Arabian Gulf's place in the Asian Five Nations in 2011, talented players have often opted out.
The reasons quoted have been varied, from standard injury problems, to a frustration with the administration, to an unwillingness to play unwinnable matches against well-resourced nations like Japan and Hong Kong.
However, a new optimism is now sweeping the XVs programme, as a variety of influential players from UAE Premiership clubs have signalled their keenness to be involved.
Paul Hart and Taif Al Delamie, the respective captains when Jebel Ali Dragons won domestic trebles over the past two seasons, have become eligible for selection.
From the capital, Jaen Botes, the imposing captain of Abu Dhabi Saracens, is available, as is Ed Lewsey, from Harlequins.
Botes, the No 8 who has been one of the stand-out players of the Gulf Top Six season, first moved to the UAE with his parents as a child.
After representing the Arabian Gulf at junior level, he moved to the UK to play and study, before returning to the Middle East last year, when he was made captain of Saracens.
"I joined UAE training in Dubai last week and hopefully I am good enough to be picked," said Botes, 24.
"I had a year off from rugby before picking it back up at the start of this season and that hit me back.
"But, hopefully, I can get back to form with the UAE matches coming up."
The new recruits will bolster a player pool which did boast a few successes during the only Test match in 2014, such as Adel Al Hendi and Charlie Sargent, the young wingers.
It is also hoped Adam Telford, the captain when the UAE played against Singapore in last year's lone Test, will also be back fit having suffered a long-term injury lay-off.
"We have worked hard to put the word out there amongst all the players, and after last year's very short season, we really want people involved," Kotze said. "A lot of guys have realised there is an opportunity for them" to play international rugby.
He added: "The vibe at the sessions has been very positive. I hope we can carry that sort of feeling through until the season starts properly."
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