Test of endurance for Niall Statham on return to rugby after four years at Dubai Sevens

Former UAE captain scores a try in 100 World Legends’ win, having undergone an intense build-up to the tournament

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Returning to rugby after four years out, then trying to keep pace with some of the stars of the world game’s recent past, it was perhaps no surprise Niall Statham limped from the field at the end of his first day back.

In truth, though, two games of 10-a-side, in the veterans category at the Dubai Sevens should have been a breeze for the former UAE captain.

His discomfort at the end of the 100 World Legends’ second win of the opening day of the Sevens weekend instead told of an exhausting lead in to the competition.

Having a tight hamstring was understandable given that last weekend he had marked the end of the Dubai Fitness Challenge with an endurance test designed by an ex-Navy Seal.

It involved running four miles, every four hours, for 48 hours. Ideal prep, then, for playing for a charity side in the International Vets event at the Sevens.

“You do one at 2am, take 45 minutes to run, go back, have a shower, calm down, go to bed at 3.30am – then the alarm goes off at 5.45am, ready for the next run at 6am,” Statham said.

“That repeats for two days. The distance is manageable, the speed you are going at is slow enough, but it is about the mental side.

"When the alarm goes off at 1.50am, and you have just had two hours’ sleep, you think: ‘It would be really easy to stop now’.

“There were three of us who completed it. It was definitely helpful when you were waking up in the night there was someone else doing it too.

“I have done pretty much nothing in between now and then, just rest. I seem to have come through it relatively injury free, so in some ways it was good preparation for this.”

The former Jebel Ali Dragons back-rower, who retired in 2018, had said in the build up to his comeback to playing that he hoped his rugby skills would come flooding back. And if they did not, well at least he had some talent around him to help out.

Both proved to be true. Statham scored a try in the 50-0 win against Airbus in the team's 8am fixture. Later in the day, the likes of former Portugal sevens great Pedro Leal and Wales wing Dafydd James ensured the 100 World Legends also beat Richmond Swansea Heavies in their second game.

“It’s the first time I have met all of them, and they are all really nice guys,” said Statham, who is the head of PE at Hartland International School in Dubai.

“You see them on TV and you read about them in the newspaper, and wonder what they are like in person. They are all lovely, down-to-earth guys.

“The competition really heats up from tomorrow. Bali Legends have a strong team, packed with ex-internationals, and TXL Scorpions look very good, too. So it is going to step up a gear.”

The quarter-finals of the International Vets tournament start at 11.12am on Friday.

Updated: December 01, 2022, 1:10 PM