The UAE, in red and black, in action against the Philippines during their Asia Rugby Championship Division 1 clash on Saturday. Courtesy Asia Rugby / Tigers Super Sports Media
UAE avoid relegation from Asia Rugby Championship Division 1 despite defeat to Philippines
May 20, 2017 Updated: May 20, 2017 07:42 PM
UAE: Tries: Talbot, Fourie; Cons: Stevenson 2; Pens: Stevenson 4
Philippines: Tries: Coveney 2, Olivier 2, Gordon; Pens: Gordon 2; Drop: Holgate
The UAE have been spared demotion back to the third tier of Asian rugby, despite completing a third defeat in Asia Rugby Championship Division 1 with a 34-26 loss to the Philippines.
Usually the last-placed team in the competition drops down to the division below, but they have been granted a reprieve for this season.
Ahead of the match neither the players nor coach Apollo Perelini were aware of the ruling, which had been brought about because of a change in the make-up of the top division next year.
The Asia Rugby website itself carried a story before the game saying the losers would be demoted. Even hours after the game, there was confusion, with some officials from both UAE Rugby and Asia Rugby believing relegation was still in place.
Japan will not compete in the Asia Rugby Championship in 2018, on account of the fact they are already qualified for their home World Cup a year later.
The competition is part of the final phase of qualification for Japan 2019, so Division 1 winners Malaysia will be elevated to play Hong Kong and South Korea in the top tier.
As such, there will be promotion from Division 2 to complete a four-team Division 1 next year, but no relegation the other way.
The news was a relief to the national team, who themselves were still unaware after the game but it did little to ease their frustration at the way the week has panned out.
They entered the competition with great hopes of three wins, and thus promotion. The reverse happened as they went down to Malaysia, Sri Lanka and then finally the Philippines.
At least they ended with their best performance, despite being down to the bare bones of the squad, deprived of the suspended Josh Ives and Kris Greene, and injured Jaen Botes, Rikus Swart and Dan Bell.
They fought back from 23-13 behind to lead 26-13 in the second half, but the Philippines secured the win, which was completed by a Gareth Holgate drop goal.
After the UAE destroyed the competition in Division 2 last year, this was a reality check about the quality of rugby on the continent, according to Perelini.
"We are very gutted with the result," Perelini said. "It is just one of those things where we just have to look and reflect.
"The players have to realise the standard of rugby that is played everywhere else in Asia is pretty high. In patches, we looked good, we looked as though we could control the game, and then at times we let ourselves down with going away from our game plans and structures.
"Our skill levels let us down. We had a lot of dropped balls when we had ascendancy round the various levels of the park."
The national team have been behind early in every game they played in Malaysia, and they trailed within 25 seconds of kickoff against the Philippines.
Although they later held the lead after a fine comeback led by the boot of Luke Stevenson and tries from the outstanding Ryno Fourie and Ed Talbot, they fell short.
"I keep harping on about it, saying we have to start well, and then in every game this week we have started badly," Perelini said.
"I think on reflection, losing key players through suspension and injury has really cost us some cohesion in the team altogether. That is no excuse, because every team was in the same boat."
Ben Bolger, the UAE captain, said his side had fallen short because of the standard of competition, not through a lack of effort.
The Abu Dhabi Harlequins flanker, who was moved to the centre for this game because of the availability issues, hopes his side will be better for the experience when they return next year.
"Overall it was probably just down to individual errors from the whole group, rather than team structures," Bolger said.
"The effort of the boys was outstanding since December. The level of competition was good, the two sides playing in the final [Sri Lanka and Malaysia] put on a great display, and the Philippines took their chances well.
"What’s done is done. We have not achieved anything like what we wanted to, but it wasn’t through a lack of effort."
Asia Rugby Championship Division 1 Results
• Sri Lanka 24-13 Philippines
• Malaysia 36-22 UAE
• Sri Lanka 33-17 UAE
• Malaysia 40-8 Philippines
• UAE 26-34 Philippines
• Sri Lanka 9-22 Malaysia