x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

A familiar face has returned

Former UAE captain starts comeback from retirement wearing the black of Saracens, reports Paul Radley.

Alistair Thompson, right, looks a natural wearing the black Saracens top after a training session. Delores Johnson / The National
Alistair Thompson, right, looks a natural wearing the black Saracens top after a training session. Delores Johnson / The National

ABU DHABI // Alistair Thompson will take the first steps of his comeback on Friday, over a year after retiring from rugby – but not in the colours of the side he helped make the leading force in UAE rugby.

It is ironic that the former UAE captain will turn out against an Abu Dhabi Harlequins side he captained and coached as he returns to the playing field for the first time this afternoon.

A debilitating knee injury forced the Scottish No 8 to give up the game last year, as he set down the captaincy of both the national team and Quins, who were champions of the Arabian Gulf at the time.

Now the Abu Dhabi schoolteacher has surprised even his closest friends in the game by opting to return with cross-city rivals Abu Dhabi Saracens rather than his former wards.

“There is nothing personal in my decision to move clubs, even if people do want to read that into it,” said Thompson, 35. “The fact I can walk to training with Saracens is very convenient, but that is not the only reason. They also have a very good reputation as a family club.

“For a number of reasons they just fit the bill.”

Quins meet Saracens in the opening friendly of a pre-season tournament at Al Ain Amblers this afternoon and the encounter will provide Thompson with some clues as to whether his decision to return is the right one.

“I came out of the game after a long season with the UAE and my body was in an awful state,” he said. “Having been outside of it, then getting involved in the Dubai Sevens, and with the Bill McLaren charity side, I felt I had just a little bit more to offer.

“I looked at other things like cycling, but that never came close to rugby.

“Rugby is all I’ve known and I missed it when I was away.”

His arrival is a coup for a side still trying to establish themselves in the UAE top flight, according to Pete Sampson, another former Quin now playing in the black of Sarries.

“I was surprised, as being mates with him I know he has been umming and ahhing about coming back for a while,” Sampson said.

“If he was going to come back I’d have expected it to be with Quins as he spent years there as coach, building them up to where they are now.

“He is looking for motivation now and he is still serious about contributing to Gulf rugby in general. We are lucky to have him at Sarries.”

pradley@thenational.ae