▶ Re­tired Wales scrum-half helps his Jebel Ali side’s sec­ond team pre­vail against a Saudi se­lect team on the open­ing day of the Dubai Rugby Sevens

The National - News - - SPORT - PAUL RADLEY More Sevens, page 24-25

Eigh­teen months af­ter re­tir­ing from a pro­fes­sional ca­reer that brought him 99 in­ter­na­tional caps and two British & Ir­ish Lions tours, Mike Phillips made a re­turn to the play­ing field for Jebel Ali Dragons’ sec­onds at the Dubai Rugby Sevens.

The for­mer Wales scrum-half was ap­pointed as coach of the Dubai-based club in the sum­mer. He had hinted back then that he might make a come­back if ever the side were short.

When a space opened up to play for the sec­ond-string in the Gulf Men’s Open at this week­end’s Sevens, he was happy to oblige. “The boys were short, so I thought I’d stick my name down and help out,” Phillips, 36, said.

“We couldn’t get num­bers for the team. A lot of the boys are play­ing for other in­vi­ta­tional teams, and that is fine. I am de­lighted, it was cool to play.

“I need to get some fit­ness in, I’ve been feel­ing a bit podgy round the waist, so this was a good ex­cuse to run around. It was good, be­cause it is good to play with good peo­ple, and there are some tal­ented young­sters com­ing through as well.”

Few peo­ple around a buzzing Pitch 2 were aware that Phillips was lin­ing up in the Dragons side – even the op­po­si­tion.

Dragons were com­fort­able win­ners in their open­ing game, against a Saudi se­lect side made up of Saudi na­tion­als and ex­pa­tri­ates based in the King­dom.

They won 36-7. Phillips played the fi­nal pass for a num­ber of the six tries, and kicked a con­ver­sion, but it was his de­fence which caught the eye most – as the op­po­si­tion at­tested.

“We had no idea we’d be play­ing against him,” Ali Na­jani, one of three Saudi na­tion­als in the side, said.

“Know­ing that he played the level he did, it was in­ter­est­ing. My job in the team is to plough through, and nor­mally it doesn’t take one guy to take me down. When some­one knows how to hit, I know about it.”

Play­ing at Dubai Rugby Sevens is a neat book­end to Phillips’ play­ing days. He had played at the old Ex­iles ground in Al Awir with Wales sevens in 2002 when he was mak­ing his way in the game.

“It was at the old sta­dium, and I loved it,” Phillips, who also runs a coach­ing academy in Dubai, said.

“It was the start of my pro­fes­sional ca­reer, re­ally. This can be the end of it as well.”

With Phillips ful­fill­ing play­ing du­ties, the job of over­see­ing the Dragons first-team in the Gulf Men’s League com­pe­ti­tion has been left to his as­sis­tant, Jonny Mac­don­ald. And Mac­don­ald is also serv­ing a player-coach­ing ca­pac­ity. The Abu Dhabi-born for­mer Scot­land sevens player is mak­ing a come­back of his own, hav­ing been forced into re­tire­ment by con­cus­sion four years ago.

It means he has been re­united in the same team as James Love, who was a team­mate of Mac­don­ald’s when the Ara­bian Gulf played at the World Cup Sevens at this sta­dium nearly 10 years ago.

“Lovey and I played to­gether years ago for the Ara­bian Gulf and we have been best mates since,” Mac­don­ald said.

“It is nice to fi­nally play with him again. When we de­cided on it, he joked that we should get the old team back to­gether.

“It was cleared last year by med­i­cal pro­fes­sion­als, and I have been want­ing to do it for a while – in the lighter form of the game, sevens.

“There are no is­sues on that side. We weren’t short, but there was a spot open, and I wasn’t tak­ing any­one’s place, so we thought, why not? I am just back up for the week­end.”

Mike Phillips played for the sec­ond string side of the Jebel Ali Dragons in the Gulf Men’s Open at The Sevens, Dubai An­tonie Robert­son / The Na­tional

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