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‘We are serious and here to stay’: UAE rugby looks ahead after landmark Asian campaign

Apollo Perelini might be forgiven for sitting back and basking in the glow of a job very well done on Friday night.

The UAE team which he helped mould were in the process of putting Malaysia to the sword in a 62-19 win at The Sevens, Dubai. Two weeks earlier they had claimed a historic first win over South Korea at the same venue.

It gave them a second-place finish in the Asia Rugby Championship (ARC), their best placing in the competition. Their world ranking had reached a peak of 57, and that is likely to get a further bump after the thrashing of 49th-ranked Malaysia.

And yet even in the midst of such a landmark success, Perelini was looking at the bigger picture.

Instead of losing himself in his laptop or helping the side with tactics at half time, the technical director for UAE Rugby was on the microphone ensuring the spectator experience was a memorable one.

He was organising prize giveaways, a crossbar challenge, and sprint races involving members of the mini and youth sections of clubs from all over the country.

It was a simple, time-honoured way of making people who might not otherwise have been bothered feel involved. Don’t leave the sport to sell itself. Make the audience want to come back next time.

And the prizes were good ones, too: replica UAE shirts for the lucky winners. Like it was something to be coveted.

That has not always been the case here, but the players on the field did a good job of showing why it should be. Their two wins over the past couple of weeks were ones to be proud of.

“There is a long way to go, but hopefully we have taken a giant leap in the right direction,” Matt Mills, the UAE captain, said.

“Hopefully the federation and the people in the community see that UAE rugby isn’t a joke.