A Dubai schoolteacher will play alongside some of the most recognisable stars at the Dubai Sevens when he returns to rugby for the first time in over four years next weekend.
Niall Statham will turn out for 100 World Legends in the International Vets event. The side is aptly named, given its glittering roster of players and coaches.
Waisale Serevi, the Fijian great, is their coach. The playing squad includes former internationals from England, Wales, Scotland, Sweden and the United States.
Plus the UAE. Statham captained the national team up until he hung up his boots in 2018 to spend more time with his young family.
His preparation for his return to playing at the Sevens has included joining in with his pupils at Hartland International School, where he is head of PE, as well as the odd training session at his old club, Jebel Ali Dragons.
“I’m sure it will all come back to me,” Statham said.
If his rugby skills might be a little rusty, at least his fitness should not be found wanting. He is in training to run his first marathon.
Playing a weekend of 10s rugby alongside the likes of Dafydd James, the former British & Irish Lions wing, and England stars Lee Mears and Paul Sampson, is not exactly a feature of most marathon training programmes. But Statham is looking forward to it.
“I’ve been on a strict diet and training regime, but if I get into any trouble I have plenty of talent there to help out, which suits me perfectly,” he said.
“It’s a little bit intimidating, but it was too good an opportunity not to say yes to, to work and play alongside these players, then bring them into what we are already doing on the ground here in terms of schools and youth.”
The International Vets competition usually involves the most recognisable stars of any of the 20 tournaments which simultaneously take place at the Sevens.
The 100 World Legends side are primarily focused on spreading awareness of their cause, which is to assist charities around the world.
They are, though, focused on success one the field in Dubai – hence their all-star playing squad.
“There’s no point going with a team who is not competitive,” said David Higgins, the organiser of 100 World Legends.
“You have to have size, you have to have youth – players who are 35 to 38. The speed of the game has improved, the players have got younger.
“Some of the teams have fallen into the problem where they keep the same team, because they have been there before. You have to be cruel sometimes.
“If you are a legends team, everyone has to be an ex-international, otherwise you are not what you say you are. And in Dubai, if you win, it gives you that chance to get companies to listen to you.”
Higgins says success in Dubai can help attract sponsors for the team’s project, which in turns helps support worthy causes around the world.
“We are there to help other charities in the countries and communities that we visit,” Higgins said.
“For example, in Malta or Belize, where we are going later with a squad of players that has around 1,000 caps between them, we try to support charities that are already there in the communities, or highlight new ones.
“The rugby is a catalyst for helping small local communities. We arrive somewhere, are there to help, and just need people to get behind it.”
The 100 World Legends will get their Dubai Sevens campaign under way when they face Airbus on Pitch 2 at 8am on Thursday.