Cambodia celebrate their first A5N tournament title in Phnom Penh. Photo by Kenji Demura (RJP).
Cambodia blanked Brunei 28-0 in Sunday’s HSBC Asian 5 Nations (HSBC A5N) Division V decider to claim its first HSBC A5N crown since the inception of the tournament in 2008. It was also the first consecutive wins for the Cambodia Kouprey since their victory in the Asian Rugby Football Union (ARFU) Asian Nations regional championship in 2006.
On Friday (July 5), Cambodia marked its first test match victory in over three years with a 38-0 win over Brunei in the opening round of the two-match series. With one milestone down, the Koupreys were intent on closing out their first ever HSBC A5N tournament victory. They achieved the feat in style, scoring four tries for their second consecutive bonus point win and maintaining a second-straight clean sheet against Brunei.
Brunei posed a much stiffer challenge then in the tournament opener on Friday. The two teams engaged in a seesaw battle throughout the opening half before Cambodia edged out in front with two tries in a period of ten minutes to take a 14-0 lead into halftime.
The scoring was started by some electric play from winger Vanara Norn who followed up his own chip kick with a great chase and charge down of the Brunei clearance to score beneath the posts in the 14th minute.
Not to be left out, the Cambodian forwards continued their strong performance in the tournament with another solid display which led to Cambodia’s second try from a rolling maul that pinned Brunei back on its own line. Flanker Matthew Reese took a clever misdirection pass from scrumhalf Luke Wilkie to dot down for his third try in two matches and to take the tournament scoring title. Cambodia flyhalf Alexis Chevalier converted both of his team’s first half tries.
The second half saw Brunei start to lose the defensive battle against a Cambodian XV that was starting to hit its straps. The gates opened in the 47th minute when Cambodia scrumhalf Wilkie scored his second try of the tournament from a simple tap and run penalty to start Cambodia’s countdown to victory. Chevalier’s conversion brought the score to 21-0.
Cambodia’s fourth try came from captain Vireak Vannak who danced through seven defenders over the course of a 35 metre run to the line. Chevalier, who was a perfect four for four from his conversion attempts today, added the icing on the cake converting Vireak’s try to put Cambodia clear at 28-0.
Cambodia coach Laurie Karatau, who resumed the helm of the team for the first time since coaching Cambodia on their last tournament victory in 2006, commented on today’s win saying:
“After Friday we knew that Brunei would be a wounded lion. They have a lot of pride and we knew they would come out and hit us with everything, which they did, so we had to prepare for that. We stressed to our guys the importance of being able to weather that challenge and to stick to our game plan and we were successful.
“I think the keys to the win were that obviously our defence was very good across both games and it showed on the scoreboard. We also played well together as a team, which is what he have been trying to do and had a better preparation than in years past. We trained for two solid months to prepare for this tournament with a focus on improving our ball skills and our fitness and physicality and it paid off.
Coach Karatau is confident that today’s result will have a long-term impact on rugby in Cambodia, saying:
“I’m quite confident with the standard we are achieving in Cambodia and we are starting to build a lot of depth. We need to employ more resources in coaching and refereeing, which we can do, but we needed this win. We had 700 young kids as part of the grassroots programme watching today and what better way to seal the future of the game than winning in front of them,” added Karatau.
The HSBC ARFU Grassroots Coaching Tour was again a great success in Phnom Penh, working with over 1,000 youth from a variety of charities, schools and NGO programmes in Cambodia. Audiences reached this week in Cambodia include programmes on deaf and blind rugby as well as working with impoverished children from around the Phnom Penh environs. The Coaching Tour hosted 700 children to today’s final match and also hosted a U15s curtain raiser between two local charity groups in the build-up to kick-off.
Today’s match is the final action of the 2013 HSBC Asian Five Nations Series. Thirty games have been played in eight countries across twelve weeks in this year’s Series. HSBC A5N action will resume again in April 2014 while the HSBC Asian Sevens Series kicks-off sevens season in Asia at end-August.