The country’s rugby fraternity will turn out in force this Friday to honour ‘the voice of rugby’ but there is a serious edge to the UAE’s game against the Bill McLaren Foundation (kick-off 4.45pm).
Former Abu Dhabi Harlequins and UAE back-row Ali Thompson grew up in the same Scottish town as commentator McLaren and has put together a fearsome looking squad to test the national team in what is their final warm-up game before they head to Hong Kong for their Asian 5 Nations opener on April 20.
Thompson has already raised over Dh20,000 through various activities at British School Al Khubairat for the charity, which was set-up following the Scotsman’s death in 2010 in order to develop and promote rugby union and its values.
Donations will be gratefully received during the game at Zayed Sports City but both Thompson and UAE performance manager Duncan Hall insists there is a serious edge to the clash.
“There are a number of goals that we want to achieve, one of which is to raise the profile of the charity over here but the second one and the very important one from UAE Rugby’s perspective is to put out a team that is going to challenge the UAE and challenge them for the 2013 Asian 5 Nations,” Thompson, who hadn’t intended to play but now finds himself lining up at flanker, said.
“Last year, being involved myself, we didn’t have enough hard games before the A5N and when the first game came along and we played Hong Kong we didn’t do terribly well. So we’ve got to pick a strong side and give them that edge going into the first game.”
National team coach Hall was more than happy to help. “Ali’s very passionate about Bill, who actually called a couple of games that I played in so there was synergy there,” the former Wallaby said.
“It’s certainly not a Barbarians game. Ali’s team have had a couple of training sessions and for us it’s our final hit-out before Hong Kong, and there are a few players who weren’t available to come to Cyprus who are available for this.
“Test spots are on the line so we’re looking for a very competitive hit-out.”
The game will have extra significance for two players representing the Bill McLaren Foundation, as both Ali Common and Scott Hutton are set to retire following the fixture.
“It will obviously mean a lot to them to run out for the Bill McLaren Foundation, being older men they have grown up hearing his voice,” Thompson added.
Bill McLaren Foundation squad
1. Ian Laidlaw (JA Dragons)
2. Sean Crombie (JA Dragons)
3. Christy McCormick Glamorgan University
4. Scott Hutton Dubai Exiles
5. Andrew Carphin JA Dragons
6. Alistair Thompson AD Harlequins
7. Billy Graham AD Harlequins
8. Dillon Gage AD Saracens
9. Kris Greene JA Dragons
10. Murray Strang AD Harlequins
11. Ian Overton JA Dragons
12. Ben Bolger AD Harlequins
13. Jeremy Manning AD Harlequins
14. Ali Common JA Dragons
15. Tim Fletcher JA Dragons
16. Jason De Broize AD Saracens
17. Charlie Lilley AD Harlequins
18. Simon Osbourne AD Harlequins
19. Matt Bates JA Dragons
20. Tom Hatfield JA Dragons
21. Douglas Steele AD Harlequins
22. Chris Marshall AD Harlequins