Injury robbed Alistair Thompson of leaving the game of rugby how he wanted. Surgery on his ruptured cruciate ligament has returned the game to him, and he used the opportunity to make the UAE team.
Knee op doesn't stop Thompson's international debut with UAE
DUBAI // Snapped cruciate ligaments have ended the careers of many a rugby player.
Rarely has such a serious injury served to prolong an athlete's playing days and given them a belated shot at the international game.
After guiding Abu Dhabi Harlequins to the 2010 Gulf Cup as player-coach, Alistair Thompson had planned on playing just one more season before devoting weekends to life as a father and husband rather than rugby.
Then he ruptured his knee in a pick-up match with mates on a summer break in his native Scotland, and those plans had to be revised.
Saturday he will make a belated international debut in the Emirates Cup of Nations, 12 years after representing Scottish Universities, four years after arriving in the UAE and 13 months after having his knee rebuilt. "I'm delighted to be getting a start," Thompson, 33, who will play in the middle of an all-Abu Dhabi back row for the UAE against Hong Kong at 3pm on Pitch 2 at The Sevens complex in Dubai.
"It is something that has been in the back of my mind since the surgery. This will be huge for me."
To get back on the playing field at all, let alone go on to earn international selection, is quite a feat, but Thompson was sanguine about his prospects from the outset.
Having been told surgery was necessary, he opted for local anesthetic when he went under the knife, and stayed awake to watch the three-hour operation on a TV monitor.
After its successful completion, he took a DVD copy of the procedure, mainly as a study aid should knees ever make the biology curriculum.
"Being a biology teacher, I'm always interested in how the body works, and I watched my surgery on screen to see what they were doing in there," said Thompson, who teaches at the British School al Khubairat.
"It wasn't always the case that they were going to do the complete [anterior cruciate ligament] reconstruction, so I was just checking to see it was actually damaged and that I needed a year out of rugby.
"If I could have got away with some cartilage repair and been back on the field in six weeks, I would have."
He returned to action with Quins at the start of this season, and played a key role in their resurgence in the Gulf Top Six before the break in the domestic season for the new sevens series. Wayne Marsters, the interim UAE coach, is happy to have a player of Thompson's pedigree available ahead of the busiest week ever faced by Gulf rugby players.
"Ali brings a lot of experience," Marsters said.
"He played a high level of rugby in Scotland before coming to the UAE, and it is good to have him to call on."
Thompson is not the first son of Hawick to play international rugby, but it is fair to say he has taken a more circuitous route to get there than any of the Scotland players who have originated from his home town. There is the fact it is in the colours of his adopted UAE, for a start.
Having played for Scotland Universities, and captained Aberdeen Grammar in the Premier One aged 21, his first port of call after leaving was Canada.
He played in the Canadian Super League, while teaching at a boarding school on the country's west coast, before relocating again to Abu Dhabi.
Then there was the knee injury.
"If I hadn't snapped my cruciate ligament, I would have liked to have been involved in the Asian Five Nations last season," he said.
"If I had had a good crack at that, maybe I would have called it a day, but I'm not saying I'm going to retire at the end of this season.
"This is what I wanted to get out of this season, some international caps for the UAE, whether it be in this tournament or the Asian Five Nations."
GAME TIME: 3pm, Pitch 2, The Sevens, Dubai?????