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All-Emirati rugby team set for Asian Sevens Series

posted on 29/08/2013: 2308 views



UAE Rugby will be represented exclusively by Emiratis for the first time at this season's Asian Sevens Series beginning with the competition in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia on August 31 and September 1, 2013, according to a Press release.

A 12-member squad will embark on a historic journey which aims to culminate with qualification to the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro where Sevens Rugby will make its debut.

The UAE Rugby Federation (UAERF) board took a decision earlier this month to select only UAE nationals for the four legs of the Asian Sevens Series which also includes competitions in Thailand, Mumbai and Singapore.

"The UAE national team for the first time will comprise all Emiratis. They have been preparing since June under the watchful eyes of former Fiji Sevens coach Epeli Lagiloa,” said Saood Belshalat, Chairman National Teams Committee of UAERF.

As part of their preparations for the international series, a group of 15 Emirati players underwent a week-long training camp at the Natal Sharks academy in Durban, South Africa, from August 10-17.

"The objective was not only to raise their standard but aimed at team building,” said Salman Hadi, Vice Chairman of UAERF.

"We have five players who are products of secondary schools and a result of HSBC's Player Pathway Programme launched more than a year ago,” said Belshalat.

"The first phase of preparation was intense and raised the fitness level. Now they are ready for 70 minutes of game play in every tournament,” said Belshalat.

"The second phase was the mental aspect where they gathered knowledge on tactical aspects on the field of play,” he added.

Lagiloa, who was drafted in July to develop a competitive sevens squad for the Asian Games in Korea in August 2014, was pleased the Emirati talent available and most importantly the commitment displayed by the players.

As per Olympic regulations, only passport holders are eligible to compete in the Asian Games, which takes place in September next year.

"I feel it is no different to coaching Fiji. Players are eager, interested and keen to learn,” he said.

"I came at the wrong time because it was Ramadan but there was no shortage of commitment. They were willing to train from 10pm till midnight. The boys took up challenge and were committed to train at odd hours,” said Lagiloa who has over four decades of coaching experience.

"I'm satisfied with their fitness levels and working on defence because we can score at any time,” said Lagiloa who is focusing on youth development.

But the bottom line is UAE Rugby is attempting to break free from depending on expatriate players to carry them along during international competitions in the future beginning with the Asian Sevens Series.

"It's a very difficult decision. But we want to promote rugby among Emiratis. If we don't give them a chance to represent country at Sevens, they will never ever develop,” observed Qais Abdulla Al Dhalai, Secretary General of UAERF.

"The expatriates have been doing it for past 40 years. Now it's the turn of the Emiratis. We trust our players. The (UAERF) board has made a lot of investment. We are all dreaming. There is no limit. We are confident outcome will be positive and the future is bright,” said Al Dhalai who will head the UAE Rugby delegation to Malaysia.

Former UAE Sevens Rugby captain Mohammed Shaker is the team manager while UAERF Executive Secretary Hamdan Suliman will also accompany the team as an official. – Khaleej Times

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