The HSBC Asian Five Nations Division I tournament gets
underway today (8 April) at the new
The Sevens grounds in Dubai, site of
last month’s Rugby World Cup Sevens.
At stake in the Semi Finals / Finals tournament
format is a spot in next year’s Top 5 competition and a chance
to qualify as the sole direct Asian entrant to the Rugby World
Cup 2011 in New Zealand. The bottom placed finisher in this year’s
Division I will be relegated to the Division II championship in
Today, the host Arabian Gulf Rugby Football Union (AGRFU) will meet Thailand, the promoted winners of the 2008
Division II tournament, while Chinese Taipei battles it out
with Sri Lanka in the other semi-final.
The winners of match 1
and 2 will play at 5.00pm while the third place play-off will be
held at 3.00pm on Saturday, 11 April 2009.
The Arabian Gulf,
under new coach Bruce Birtwistle, are the top ranked team in the
Division I championship after being relegated from the elite HSBC
Asian Five Nations Top 5 competition in 2008.
was only appointed last month is keen to examine his new charges
in action, “I’m a little nervous about our first performance,
seeing how the guys come together. I’ll feel more comfortable
after we have that first game under our belt.”
“There have been
some changes to the training and structure of the team. We have
developed a leadership group to support the captain, meaning the
players have to take ownership of certain areas of the game.
We’ve also had the opportunity to bring some younger players
into the squad and have had five of the academy guys training
with us, giving them some exposure to a higher level of rugby,”
No. 8 Dave Clark will captain the AGRFU XV in
the upcoming matches and is well aware of the importance of the
upcoming games: “These are must wins if we want to get on the
World Cup Qualifying ladder. We've got one shot at it and winning
will stand us in good stead ahead of the HSBC Asian 5 Nations
Top 5 next year. The players have been training intensely up to
and on the back of the recent World Cup Sevens, in which a
number of our players were involved. The guys are fully aware
that 15s is a different kettle of fish altogether and while we
take a higher level of fitness into these two tests, we know we
need to knuckle down and get very physical but play with a
“Thailand, Chinese Taipei and Sri Lanka
will be coming to Dubai for results and we are preparing
accordingly. As a squad we're upbeat about our prospects but we're
taking nothing for granted, as it will be a tough old experience,”
These sentiments were echoed by Thailand coach
Atapol Wongratana who is setting more realistic targets for the
competition. “As the promoted Division II champions we are
slated to meet the top team in the Division I - the Arabian Gulf.
We will be giving up a lot of size but our players are used to
that and we will have to place a premium on our fitness and
technique and hope to use the conditions to our advantage as we
are used to playing in hot weather.”
“Our main goal is to test
ourselves against the top competition we can find and the Asian
Five Nations is a great way to do this. We are proud to have won
the Division II last year and will consider it a real result if
we can secure our presence in the Division I competition next
year by staying up,” said Wongratana.
Second and third seeds
Sri Lanka and Chinese Taipei will not be satisfied to maintain
the status quo this week in Dubai however. Chinese Taipei coach
Jason Lin, back at the helm of the XVs side for the first time
since the 1992 Asian Cup, is confident in the team he has
brought to Dubai, particularly with the addition of prop Lin
Wen Tseng who is in the Toyota set-up in Japan’s Top League. Lin
was unavailable for the Division I championship last November
in Tainan, Taipei (won by Singapore) due to his club
commitments in Japan and will be an important addition for the
team against the physical packs of Sri Lanka and the Arabian Gulf.
Chinese Taipei will also rely on the veteran leadership of winger
Wang Kuo Feng, a mainstay of the national team squad at both
VIIs and XVs, who is coming off a fine performance in the Hong
Kong Sevens where Chinese Taipei was matched against Fiji,
Samoa and Canada in a physically bruising pool. 11 of the 12-man
squad for the Hong Kong Sevens are included in the Chinese
Taipei set-up and Lin has only brought in one new cap for the
tournament, U20s player Wang Yiu Sheung.
After handily beating
Sri Lanka 35 – 23 in their last encounter in the Division I 2008,
Chinese Taipei are the second seeds overall this week. Their co-favourites
status has had an additional boost after Sri Lanka chopped and
changed its side significantly in the past few weeks derailing
what was a promising build-up after the Lankans appearance in
the Hong Kong Sevens at
the end of March.
With all teams progressing
in their build-up to the Division I competition, a fantastic
rugby ground in 7he Sevens stadium and Rugby World Cup 2011 dreams
in sight, the table is set for some fantastic Asian rugby
action in the days ahead.
As part of the development work
undertaken by the Arabian Gulf Rugby Football Union and the
legacy programmes inspired by the HSBC Asian Five Nations, an
exhibition match between two of the local Emirati Rugby Clubs, Al Ahli Club and Dubai Club, will be held on Saturday, 11 April
The match will be a great platform to showcase the
development of local rugby in the region and to give the
players an experience of international competitions.
“It will be
very competitive,” said Ghaith Jalajel, AGRFU Rugby Development
Officer, “especially after both teams’ recent successes in the
Arabian 7’s Challenge Cup back in February.”
The HSBC Asian
5 Nations matches will kick off at 6.00pm and 8.00pm on
Wednesday 8th April and 3.00pm and 5.30pm on Saturday 11th April.
The exhibition match will take place on Saturday at 5.00pm.
Entrance to the ground is free and spectators are encouraged
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