x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Captain cool to boost title bid

Alastair Thompson comes back to bolster the injury-hampered Harlequins as the second-placed defending champions attempt to pull themselves up against Hurricanes.

DUBAI // Abu Dhabi Harlequins will welcome back their captain and coach, Alistair Thompson, as they bid to correct their course towards a second successive Prosperity Premiership title this afternoon. The defending champions host Dubai Hurricanes at Al Ghazal in the knowledge they now have a five-point deficit to make up on the league leaders, Bahrain. The capital side's title-defence suffered a dent when they went down to a 22-15 defeat to Dubai Exiles last time out, in a bruising encounter which also cost them key personnel. Murray Strang, their shrewd stand-off, will be absent from the backline this afternoon, while Sean McMahon, the veteran No 8, faces an MRI scan on his potential career-ending knee injury. Thompson, who only played a small part against the Exiles due to an existing neck injury, will resume his place starting at the back of the scrum.

"We will have to make do with what we have, and the Hurricanes appear to be in a similar situation as they have a different team every week," he said. "Matches between Harlequins and Hurricanes are always physical encounters, and we have spoken this week about playing a controlled, disciplined game." The corresponding fixture on the final day of last season, between the two most recent Gulf league winners, eventually settled the title in Abu Dhabi's favour. Elsewhere this afternoon, there will be a contrast of styles on show when the Dubai Dragons meet the Exiles at The Sevens.

The Dragons are the dominant force in sevens rugby in the Gulf, and base their gameplan in the full version on their array of backline talent. The Exiles, by contrast, have built their recent revival, which culminated in them ended Abu Dhabi's 16-match unbeaten streak last week, around their giant pack. Al Ain Amblers face their last realistic threat to their title aspirations in the second tier Emirates League this afternoon, when they travel to play Toa Dubai at The Sevens. The Amblers have a 100 per cent record at the top of the division, even though they actually lost a hard fought encounter in the reverse fixture earlier in the campaign. Toa won out that day, but the result was later amended after the union deemed one of their players to have been ineligible for the match. pradley@thenational.ae