AL AIN // One year, three months and 12 days after suffering an injury which looked to have ended his career in the game, Mike McFarlane resumed playing for Abu Dhabi Harlequins yesterday. Not that he had been counting down the days.
The Englishman had established himself as one of the leading players in the domestic game before snapping his shin in two places during a low-key game of rugby league. His recuperation has been lengthy and occasionally soul-sapping.
However, it was a triumphant comeback for the back row as Harlequins returned to winning ways at the Al Ain Amblers pre-season tournament yesterday.
“It was such a buzz,” he said. “You cannot replace rugby. Last year, there was such a void. You can’t be there for the training banter, you can’t be on the field to change things, and that is the hardest part.”
He admits his stomach was churning with nerves as he took the field for the first game of the day against Quins’ city rivals, Abu Dhabi Saracens. But it did not last. “It couldn’t have started any better,” he said. “Straight after kick-off, I stole the ball and I felt like, ‘Oh, yes, I’m finally back’.
“There is still a long way to go. You can get fit, go through rehab, but getting match fit is a whole different thing. But it will come.”
Happily, for a player who was noted for destructive defence before his injury, there were plenty of collisions to welcome him back. In the second Quins match of the day, he was nearly knocked unconscious by a flailing elbow as he made a tackle against the Dubai Exiles.
In the next game, against the host club, he was at the centre of a scuffle after making a nuisance of himself at the breakdown. It was bliss, he said. “Being able to go and socialise with the boys when you have a black eye, a bumped head, the scratches, the bruises, the cuts – you know you’ve earned it,” he said.
Although McFarlane’s return to health is likely to spell bad news for the rest of the UAE Premiership, his rivals were pleased to see him back. Alistair Thompson was a former club colleague of his at Quins, but was in direct opposition to him at No 8 for the Saracens yesterday.
Thompson was also making a comeback of his own after retiring a year ago. Having lost a season to a knee injury when he was at his peak, he can empathise with McFarlane.
“Any rugby player would echo Mike’s comments,” the former UAE captain said.
“To be on the sidelines for a year, in a managerial role, it is tough. It is tough to celebrate wins because it is about what the 15 players do on the field.
“It is nice to be back on the field to try to influence the game, and I think that is probably what Mike has been through, too.”