The United Arab Emirates were the terrors of Tashkent this week as they showed themselves to be a class above the Asia Rugby Championship Division 2 in the Uzbekistan capital. On Saturday they scored 10 tries at the impressive Dustlik Stadium to see off the challenge of Thailand 70-18 and win promotion to Division 1 next year.
More importantly than that, however, they have kept their dream alive of qualifying for Rugby World Cup 2019TM and, in the presence of Webb Ellis Cup in Tashkent this week, they were inspired by the game’s biggest prize and can still now say they are in with a chance of competing for it in Japan just over three years from now.
A perfect kicking display from centre Charlie Sargent yielded 20 points for him personally and ensured that the UAE were never really in danger of losing the game. That said, Thailand were still in the hunt until quite deep into the second half thanks to tries from Adithep Keatpattanachai and Chinnoiwont Hirunchai and a generally stubborn performance, but then the floodgates opened and a brace each for wing Ryno Fourie, fly-half Matthew Hutchings and twinkle-toed full-back Imad Reyal were the highlights.
Having despatched hosts Uzbekistan earlier in the week, it was a very satisfying week for coach Apolo Perelini and his charges.
“We played well today and we had to in order to beat Thailand." he said. "We knew they wouldn’t just lie down for us. It took us probably 30 minutes to get into our stride and, to be honest, it took us 60 minutes before we were able to grind them down. We played some good rugby, some entertaining rugby so that was pleasing … I am very proud of their performance and I’m a very happy coach going back to the UAE.
“We want to challenge at the next level. We want to go beyond Division 1 in fact. We have a good group of players who can achieve that and we have more to come so I think the future looks bright for us.”
Earlier in the day, Uzbekistan were cruelly defeated by a single point as they went down to Guam 23-22 in the same venue. In front of a vociferous home crowd, the Uzbeks fell behind early and often, finding themselves 17-0 adrift after just half an hour. But tries from replacement Dostou Arzikulov and their fearsome number eight Sanjar Sadullayev either side of half-time gave them some belief.
Then, a try from wing Abduvoris Karimov together with a penalty from Stanislav Krechun saw them take the lead 22-17 with just 15 minutes to go. But two late penalties from Guam scrum-half Ratu Uluiviti were enough to see the men from the Pacific sneak home, much to the disappointment of the inconsolable Uzbeks.
This tournament has kick-started the qualification process in Asia. With Japan having qualified automatically by virtue of finishing third in their RWC 2015 pool, the top team in Asia will now go forward into the global repechage for a place at rugby’s flagship event.
While the opening ceremony is still more than three years away, Rugby World Cup 2019TM has now already begun with an inclusive and exciting qualification process underway. In total, the competition now features more than 90 nations. The qualifying stages comprise around 200 matches, featuring in excess of 3,000 players across six continents, including the developing rugby markets of Brazil, Russia, India and China as well as USA and Mexico.
With 12 teams having secured their place at Japan 2019 courtesy of finishing in the top three of their respective pools in 2015, the remaining eight places will be determined by a process of regional and cross-regional qualifiers and, for the first time, a stand-alone round-robin repechage tournament to determine the final qualifier in 2018.