The United Arab Emirates created history in Abu Dhabi on Friday with their first ever victory in international rugby, a surprise 24-10 victory over Kazakhstan in round two of the HSBC Asian 5 Nations 2011.
Asia’s newest rugby Union, formed following the disbanding of the Arabian Gulf RFU at the end of 2010, now lead the Top 5 standings with eight points, three more than Hong Kong who tackle Japan on Saturday, with Sri Lanka on three points.
“It feels fantastic,” admitted UAE coach Bruce Birtwistle. “It is great to get our first win at home under the UAE banner. I’m extremely proud of the effort of the entire team … our forwards blazed the way for us tonight, but I thought we were really strong throughout the park.”
LISTEN AS BRUCE BIRTWISTLE TALKS TO TOTAL RUGBY RADIO ABOUT THE WIN AND HIS HOPES FOR THE REST OF THE CAMPAIGN >>
The A5N match to ever be played in Abu Dhabi, the UAE capital, saw the hosts play to the strengths of their forward pack and the boot of Jonathon Grady, the fly half kicking the first of his four penalties in the 16th minute.
A second followed before wing Sergey Konev got Kazakhstan on the board with a 27th minute try, although prop Munib Haddad turned the pack’s domination into a second try for the UAE, with Grady’s penalty sending the UAE in with a 14-5 lead at half time.
Tough loss for Kazakhstan
Grady increased that advantage with a penalty within minutes of the restart and replacement Andrew Millar which pushed the UAE towards their historic win, and even though Kazakhstan battled on, Daulet Akymbekov’s try came too late to salvage anything.
Kazakhstan, who were missing a number of key players from their forward park, are now in danger of losing their Top 5 status, having lost their opening match 23-10 to Hong Kong in Almaty to prop up the standings with no points.
“It was a tough loss and a direct result of a very difficult build-up for us this week with our red carded players and then one of our top players not getting his travel visa in time. The loss of another player to heat exhaustion this week meant that it really was the perfect preparation for a loss,” admitted captain Timur Mashurov.
Things do not get any easier for Kazakhstan, the 2010 runners up, with a trip to Thailand’s capital Bangkok to face a Japan side who have not lost a match in the three previous years of Asian 5 Nations rugby.
UAE aiming high
“It will be tough next week at this rate against Japan, but Kazakhstan always start slow. We get better the more we are together, and by the third and fourth games we start to show we can really play,” said Mashurov.
“By our fourth match we begin to play like we know we can and that will be perfect timing to play Sri Lanka at home.
While Kazakhstan will be looking over their shoulders at the prospect of relegation, the conquerors believe that this victory, in tandem with a 13-13 draw against Sri Lanka last weekend, will be enough to remain in the Top 5 for next year.
“We won’t back away from it, we will field our strongest team against Japan,” Birtwistle said of their next match in a fortnight’s time. “I think we have done enough to stay up with a draw and a win from our opening two matches.
“Our goal is now an away win in Hong Kong and securing second place in Asia.”