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Spirited side up for making history.

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'HOYAMAL' may be a chant associated with ancient pearl divers, but if the UAE rugby team has its way it will soon be inextricably linked with success for the newly created side.

This Saturday sees the start of a new era for rugby in the region with the UAE playing its first ever match.

Bruce Birtwistle's boys travel to Colombo to face Sri Lanka in the opening round of this year's Asian Five Nations following the IRB's decision to disband the Arabian Gulf RFU - a move born out of a desire to try and get more nationals playing the game.

And the UAE team has adopted a new rallying call to mark what it hopes will be the first of lots of victories.

"We've worked hard on creating a team culture and we have our own rallying call which is 'hoyamal'." skipper Mike Cox-Hill told 7DAYS.

"We've got two Emiratis [Ali Mohammed and Mohanned Shaker] in the squad and they suggested we adopt the chant for the team.

"Playing in the UAE's first game is history and with Ali and Mohanned in the squad it will be a great occasion."

The word 'hoyamal' is an ancient Emirati chant used by pearl divers to harness inner strength and to uplift the spirit, but, going by Cox-Hill's excitement before Saturday's crucial clash, it's clear the newly formed XV don't need much rousing.

"This is a huge opportunity; we're not nervous, we're excited. We've been together since January and it's great to now get the championship under way," the big lock added. "There's a great vibe in the camp. Monday night's training session was the best we've had yet."

However, new era or not for Gulf rugby, the ultimate goal hasn't changed.

Coach Birtwistle knows his side face a tough top-division test against the newly promoted Sri Lankans, with clashes against Kazakhstan, Hong Kong and perennial favourites Japan to follow. "It's a big occasion for the UAE. We have been preparing for this since the start of the year," he said.

"All our focus is on the 80 minutes on Saturday.

"The first game is big - the Sri Lankans will be targeting us and we go there knowing we'll have to soak up a lot of pressure. But we too have targeted this as a must-win game."

Last year the Arabian Gulf finished fourth in the table, with two wins from their four matches. And, in spite of losing the Bahrain, Qatar and Oman-based players, both Cox-Hill and Birtwistle are confident the UAE can do even better.

"We may be light on experience in terms of players who have played in the Five Nations, but we've got some great new guys coming into the team who have just become eligible to play for us," Cox-Hill commented.

"At our first meeting we all decided second was a reasonable position to go for and in terms of fitness we are 25 per cent ahead of where the Arabian Gulf were this time last year. We've built a great camaraderie."

Birtwistle added: "I have no real worries - we have trained very well and now it's time to prove ourselves on the field."

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Publication:7 Days (Dubai, United Arab Emirates)
Article Type:Reprint
Date:Apr 21, 2011
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