The UAE will bid to salvage their World Cup dream against Sri Lanka in Malaysia on Wednesday, without the services of two key players.
Dan Bell, the Jebel Ali Dragons fullback, will be absent with the ankle injury he suffered in the loss to Malaysia in their opening Asia Rugby Championship Division 1 match on Sunday.
His Dragons colleague, Ryno Fourie, a try scorer in the 36-22 defeat to the host nation, will also be missing against Sri Lanka as he serves a one-match suspension.
The national team will have to bridge a difference of 32 places in the World Rugby rankings when they face the South Asian side in Ipoh.
Sri Lanka beat a Philippines team that included Phil Abrahams, the Abu Dhabi Harlequins hooker, in their ranks, 24-13 in their opening game.
It meant they moved to 39 in the world rankings. The UAE are now 71st in the rankings, actually moving up after their loss to Malaysia because of results elsewhere.
Despite the difference in the standings, the UAE players have reason to feel optimistic, at least judged on the evidence of club rugby.
At the start of the domestic season, Dubai Exiles and Abu Dhabi Harlequins both took comfortable wins off Kandy, Sri Lanka’s leading club, in the Western Clubs Champions League.
Paul Hart, the veteran UAE prop, is optimistic about their prospects, despite the disparity in the rankings.
“Everyone is excited for the Sri Lanka match,” Hart said. “A good start and a good result is essential. We are determined to get our campaign back on track.”
This week’s tournament, which concludes with a fixture against Philippines on Saturday, is part of the final phase of qualifying for the 2019 World Cup in Japan.
The winners advance to face Hong Kong and South Korea in the top tier of Asian rugby next year.
The successful side in that face a side from Oceania in a home and away playoff later in 2018 for the right to advance to the final repechage competition.
Apollo Perelini, the coach, encouraged UAE rugby to think big ahead of this competition, and to treat the World Cup as their goal.
The opening loss means the task is now a tough one. Even if the UAE win both their remaining matches, they will require one of the other sides to beat Malaysia to stand a chance of reaching top spot.
After the defeat to the hosts, he said the Sri Lanka fixture is a “massive” one for his side.
“We can’t use excuses, we have to wear it and move on,” Perelini said.
“We have a massive game to come. With just two days between games to prepare, you have to brush yourself down, learn from it, and get better for the next game.”
• Sri Lanka 24-13 Philippines
• Malaysia 36-22 UAE
• Sri Lanka v UAE
• Malaysia v Philippines
• UAE v Philippines
• Malaysia v Sri Lanka
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