x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Familiar look across the rugby field

Sampson will face former Harlequins teammates as captain of his new side Saracens, writes Paul Radley.

Pete Sampson switched from Abu Dhabi Harlequins to capital rivals, the Saracens.
Pete Sampson switched from Abu Dhabi Harlequins to capital rivals, the Saracens.

ABU DHABI // Pete Sampson, the UAE hooker who swapped Abu Dhabi's established elite for the upstarts this summer, has been installed as the captain of his new side just in time for today's capital derby.

It is not as though the South African No 2 was short of incentives already ahead of today's inaugural Capital Cup between his Saracens side and the Premiership-leading Harlequins.

It is the first time the former Quins captain will have faced his old teammates since departing. The armband has been passed to him because of an injury enforced lay-off for Ian Gregory, and Sampson is hoping to bring his insider knowledge of the opposition to bear.

"Quins are a very different team to last year, with very few weak points, so there is no doubt Sarries are the underdogs by some way - but that's expected and how we like it," Sampson said. "A few weeks ago we would've said that the Quins' tight five was a bit of a weakness but with their entire starting front row back in the mix for this weekend that's no longer the case."

If the title-chasing Quins have found some reserves up front, it is counter-balanced by a raft of absences in the backs. Murray Strang, Patrick Hegarty and Imad Reyal are away with the UAE sevens team in India, while their summer signing Jeremy Manning is back in the UK for a wedding.

"It will test our strength in depth, but there are no excuses, and it gives the players who come in a chance to show what they have got," said Chris Davies, the Quins director of rugby. "What better time to do it than in a local derby?

"I fully believe in the guys who are stepping up - they could all play regular first-team rugby."

Absenteeism is not reserved to Quins, however. Each of the top flight's six clubs are already having their bench strength tested, just three weeks into the new campaign.

The loss of Gregory, the back-row forward, is one of a variety of personnel challenges facing the Saracens today.

"We're in the same boat I'm afraid with more than 10 boys out for various reasons including our captain but we accept that's the nature of amateur rugby in an expat community," Sampson said.

"We don't have the depth Quins have and with so many new players at Sarries we're still working out who's who. There's no doubt it is going to be a David v Goliath battle."

pradley@thenational.ae