Apollo Perelini is a man on a mission. The UAE national rugby coach is focused on the tough task of guiding his men past host Uzbekistan in the Asia Rugby Championship (ARC) Division 2 in Tashkent on Wednesday.
The reward for victory will be a final three days later against the winner of the other semi-final between Thailand and Guam.
Should the UAE be successful in that game they would earn promotion to Division 1. The came up short by a whisker last year, losing 20-19 to Malaysia.
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Perelini, the Samoa-born former dual code international, has taken heart that the Malaysia team they lost to 12 months ago won Division 1 last week in a pool that comprised Sri Lanka, Singapore and the Philippines.
“It’s quite interesting the games last week was for the Division 1 and the team that won was the team that we lost to by one point,” he said. “It’s quite disappointing that we couldn’t do it last time but we are hopeful at Tashkent. We just need to look after what we can do as none of these games are going to be easy.
“The team is very excited in going there to play the two games. I think everybody has to play back-to-back. So it’s the same for all three teams.”
Perelini has eight debutants in the 25-man squad but is confident he has a strong group for the four-team competition.
"It's an exciting time for UAE rugby when you have a bigger pool of players to select from, and there is quality in every line," he said. "The players know what is expected from them and I have a lot of faith in them too. We have prepared well both physically and mentally, and it's about delivering the stuff to win the games."
Paul Hart, 38, the oldest player in the squad and a member of the team that lost to Malaysia last year, said nothing less than first place will suffice for the UAE.
“We have a more professional UAE national team and this year I can see it’s a big step forward,” said the Jebel Ali Dragons veteran. “There are more young players in the squad and the bar has been raised to a new level. It was there last year but for some strange reason we couldn’t achieve the desired results.
“We were devastated to lose by a point to Malaysia, it was heartbreaking. But this time we want to achieve what we couldn’t 12 months ago.”
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