x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

UAE's Alistair Thompson is on a local rugby mission

Former UAE rugby captain Alistair Thompson has been raising funds and helping on the pitch as the UAE prepares for the Asian Five Nations, writes John McAuley.

Alistair Thompson, centre, has been busy preparing the UAE for the Asian Five Nations. Mike Young / The National
Alistair Thompson, centre, has been busy preparing the UAE for the Asian Five Nations. Mike Young / The National

In preparation for Friday's match between the UAE and the Bill McLaren Foundation XV, Alistair Thompson has been wearing two very contrasting hats.

As the man tasked with raising the profile of a charity named after the "The Voice of Rugby", not to mention one of his boyhood heroes, the former UAE captain has understandably been busy generating funds – Dh20,000 and counting – and spiking interest.

Yet as the player who led the national team as recently as last year, he realises the significance of this evening's event at Zayed Sports City from a sporting standpoint, too.

The game forms the final warm-up for the UAE's upcoming Asian Five Nations (A5N) campaign; this charity is certainly not nonprofit.

"There's two important things from the match: raising awareness of the foundation within the UAE and getting the UAE ready for a pretty gruelling five weeks of competition," Thompson said. "Last year, our first A5N match was a baptism of fire, as in the build-up, we'd not faced opposition like that and were heavily beaten.

"So I've assembled as strong a squad as I could hopefully we'll be able to challenge the UAE and put them under pressure in positions they'd experience against Hong Kong, Japan and Korea."

The Foundation XV, largely comprising players from the Emirates' top two teams the Abu Dhabi Harlequins and Jebel Ali Dragons has been sculpted to emulate the style of play the UAE will face in the A5N.

That, Thompson says, should ensure there is no repeat of the 2012 opener, when the UAE lost 85-10 to Hong Kong. They did, however, regain focus and performed admirably, particularly against Korea.

"On the back of that defeat, we regrouped and got better with every game," Thompson said. "The last match with Korea was an example of the progress made. So the aim here is to further that progression, to give the UAE a very hard game, where they can then look at the video and improve."

For UAE coach Duncan Hall, the event was a no-brainer.

"Ali's done a great job in putting his team together and raising the foundation's profile," he said.

jmcauley@thenational.ae

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