Fit-again back-row forward will look to land place at Harlequins, writes Paul Radley
It is not often a new coach is able to begin his quest to better what has gone before by calling up his predecessor to play for him.
When the UAE rugby season begins later this month, Chris Davies, the new director of rugby at the Abu Dhabi Harlequins, will be able to name Alistair Thompson, the erstwhile Quins coach, in his starting line-up.
Thompson, 33, won three trophies during three seasons as player-coach. He had planned to step down as coach after guiding his side to Gulf Cup success in Bahrain in 2010, although he intended to carry on playing.
However, those plans were hastily rearranged when a serious knee injury ruled him out of the entire 2010/11 campaign.
Now restored to fitness, the schoolteacher is ready to return to the Quins back-row, and has already handed over the coaching reins to Davies.
"He has left a really excellent foundation to work on," Davies, 34, said. "A lot of the work I am doing is just tweaking here and there and building on his good work."
The new man has a broad remit. As well as overseeing the first team's pursuit of silverware, he will be tasked with driving the club's juniors and coach educator programmes.
In addition, he hopes to produce more players for the UAE national team. Given that Quins were the leading side in the country before the renaissance of Dubai Hurricanes last season, they had precious few international representative players.
However, they improved on that record last season when Renier Els, Chris Jones-Griffiths and Jamie Clarke excelled in the UAE's Asian Five Nations campaign.
Murray Strang, the Quins fly-half, is also in line to assume the UAE No 10 shirt, having debuted for the sevens side in Shanghai last week. And Davies hopes the capital will become a fertile production area for the national side.
"We have some talented guys playing, which is reflected in terms of our representation in the national squad," he said. "We want to push our guys towards that because it raises the overall standard as these guys bring a lot of good experience back to the club."
The prospect of representing the UAE also an provided incentive for Thompson to return from cruciate ligament surgery. "My main goal is to get back in the Quins first team, but it was one of my main frustrations last season not to be able to throw my hat in the ring for UAE selection," he said.