Emirati student Sophie Shams 'star struck' after move to English Premiership side Saracens

Former Dubai Exiles mini will dovetail her university studies with training with some of rugby's top players

As a rugby-mad child, Sophie Shams once used to attend summer trainings camps at Saracens in the UK while on her holidays from school in Dubai.

The courses took place near where her grandma lived, and she used to go along happily, despite being the only girl in attendance.

It is funny how life works out. This week, a little under a decade on, it was confirmed the Emirati student has been signed by Saracens, who are the most successful side in the history of the Women’s Premiership in England.

She has one year left on her geophysics degree at Durham University in the UK’s north. When time permits from her studies, she will join up with a squad that boasts some of the stars of the English women’s game.

She will be partaking in drills and tackling practice alongside the likes of Vicky Fleetwood and Marlie Packer, each of whom has played more than 70 times for England, and Poppy Cleall, who was the Six Nations player of the tournament this year.

All of which might sound daunting. But, she says, it is far better to be with them than against them.

“It is quite scary when you walk out on to the pitch at Saracens training and everyone around you are such amazing players,” Shams said.

“Olympians like Holly Aitchinson. Sevens players like Chantelle Miell. Red Roses like Vicky Fleetwood, Marlie Packer and Poppy Cleall - to name a few - as well as and international players from other countries surround you.

“They are all lovely and have made me feel very welcome. I look forward to playing and learning from them even though it is slightly intimidating being on the same team as them.

“However, it is infinitely better than watching them all charge towards you when you are playing against them.

“The level that they not only play at, but also train at gives me a standard to aspire to.

“Sometimes I am literally star struck and am so impressed, but it shows how much I can improve my game and this really excites me.”

Shams already has experience of Premiership rugby herself, having dovetailed her studies in Durham with playing for Darlington Mowden Park Durham Sharks.

She says the decision to leave the Sharks was hard, given they “have taught me a lot in the past couple of years and have given me lots of experience playing at a premiership level”.

She has opted to switch to Saracens at the same time as two of her DMP Sharks colleagues have done the same.

Her focus for this season, though, will be on university rugby and her final year of studies, as well as “holidays and when needed I will be at Sarries”.

In announcing her signing, Saracens said she “has had a fascinating journey to North London after originally playing in the Middle East, and has picked up plenty of experience along the way”.

The transfer to the side who have won more Women’s Premiership titles than any other team is fine reward for Shams’ efforts to overcome injury.

Shams, who first learnt rugby in the Under 6s team at Dubai Exiles, and attended Jumeirah English Speaking School then Dubai College, has suffered serious injuries to both knees in her fledgling career to date.

Each injury, coincidentally, occurred in separate years on nearly the exact patch of turf on Pitch Two at The Sevens, during the annual Dubai Rugby Sevens.

“After two ACL reconstructions, which appears to be a very common injury in female rugby players, I am feeling very strong,” Shams said.

“One of the upsides of the Covid-19 lockdowns was that I had time to recover and focus on my rehab. I did my return-to-running block by myself as I knew how to load it from the first ACL.

“You would have to be a very lucky person to play rugby and not sustain injuries. It is a fact of rugby that you have to accept and hope that any injuries are not permanent.

“It is so great to be back on the pitch with XVs and of course sevens which uses a completely different skill set.

“I was very lucky this season to play for Samurai 7s, and I got to blow the cobwebs away.”

Updated: September 2nd 2021, 8:19 AM
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