Lao hooker Nicolas Sisombath scored a hat trick against Cambodia
Defending HSBC Asian 5 Nations (HSBC A5N) Division V champions Lao brushed past hosts Cambodia 58-7 yesterday (Jun 30) to capture their fourth consecutive HSBC Asian Five Nations (HSBC A5N) Division V title.
Despite their strong track record in Division V rugby, Lao was the surprise package of this year’s tournament, coming into the match with a new coach in former Australia women’s star Shirley Russell, who became the first female coach of a men’s national team in Asian rugby history this week in Phnom Penh.
Lao also impressed with their significantly improved physicality and conditioning from last year’s performance, when they eked out a win in the competition (which was structured as a home and away with Cambodia in 2011) by a combined six points. In 2012, Lao ran rampant, scoring 128 points while conceding just 14 in its two matches with Brunei (70-7) and Cambodia (58-7).
Against Cambodia in the final, Lao raced out to its second straight strong start, notching two tries in the first ten minutes and adding a third before the 20th minute had passed.
Tournament standout Anousith Phaipanya, who scored a hat trick in Lao’s opener against Brunei, scored Lao’s first try of the game in the fourth minute.
Fullback William Langrath added two in the opening half with No 8 Phouphet Phouttavong and flyhalf Chris Mastaglio both crossing over in the first forty minutes. Mastaglio was successful on two conversions to send Lao in to the changing room with a 29-0 lead.
Throughout the tournament the Lao XV was relentless and they wouldn’t let up in the second half of the final, as burly hooker Nicolas Sombath crossed over twice in the first ten minutes.
Sombath also scored the last try of the game in the 80th minute to take a hat-trick and bring his try tally to four across the two matches of the tournament, joint equal with his outside centre Phaipanya for the tournament’s try scoring lead. Mastaglio captured the overall points title with 43 points from two games.
Cambodia scored their only points of the match deep in the second half after scrumhalf Luke Wilkie took a quick tap and run and burrowed through the Lao defence from close in. The try was converted by inside centre Alexis Chevalier.
Inside centre Pisa Vongdeuanpheng scored Lao’s third try of the second half while Mastaglio picked up his brace in the 69th minute, before Sombath crossed over for the third and final time at the hooter. Mastaglio’s fourth conversion of the match brought the final score to Lao 58, Cambodia 7, earning Lao its fourth straight victory in the HSBC Asian 5 Nations and bolstering their case for promotion.
Lao captain, prop Phettanousone Chittaphong commented on the strong performance saying, “We’re very happy to come back to Cambodia and win it again.
We have played on this pitch many times and we took all of that experience into the game. Our scrum and our set pieces got stronger and stronger and our defence was solid and hitting the line very quickly. Everything came together well this week and we really hit our stride in today’s match.”
New Lao coach Shirley Russell was also pleased with the performance and happy to ring in her debut as the first female coach of a men’s national team in Asian rugby on a successful note.
“It was a hard tournament with only a day’s turnaround between our two matches but the players made my job easy. We played about 140 minutes of really good but basic rugby. We wanted to play a fast game with good support and continuity and above all to play go forward rugby and I think we achieved that.
“Our fitness played a part as well. Since I have been with the side we have worked a lot on our conditioning. The guys really want to become elite players and they understand that it starts with fitness and starts at that basic level and comes through.
“I believe I am the first female in world rugby to coach a national team and it is a great honour but I don’t coach men or women I coach rugby players and as I said the guys have really responded and made my job a lot easier this week.”
Russell was a standout for Australia in 15s in the late 1990s and continued through the Australian coaching ranks, being involved with the coaching system of the women’s 15 and also with the Australia women’s sevens team before coming to Lao.
Russell also hopes to work closely to develop the game for women in Lao.
“We have a Women’s 15 side. Our problem is a number’s game. We only have six million people in the whole country so to foster a sport for women in particular is really difficult. But we have a junior programme in place and this win today will be another recruiting opportunity,” said Russell.
The HSBC A5N Division V championship is the penultimate activity of this year’s HSBC A5N. On July 14, the winners of the Division II and III championships, Thailand and India respectively, will play a single-match play-off to determine the team that advances in the Rugby World Cup qualification process for 2015.
The winner of Thailand v India, which will be played in Bangkok at Thephasadin Stadium, will advance directly to Division I of the HSBC Asian 5 Nations in 2014. The Division I and Top 5 competitions of next year’s HSBC A5N will be the second stage of Asian qualification for Rugby World Cup 2015 in England.