Photo by: Jacob Cawthorne
Cambodian lock Chhoeng Veasna (above right) catches the ball from a lineout against Laos (in blue) during their Asian 5 Nations regional tournament game in Savannakhet, Laos, March 28.
The Cambodian national rugby team, "the Koupreys", will attempt to end their four game losing streak when they face Laos in a friendly this Saturday at Phnom Penh's Old Stadium with kickoff is slated for 4pm.
The Koupreys suffered a heartbreaking 8-3 defeat to Laos on March 28 in the HSBC 5 Nations Regional Tournament in Savannakhet, Laos, losing to an intercepted pass in the closing seconds.
Despite the disappointment, Cambodia coach Peter Maley believes his team showed much improvement.
"Our defending was outstanding, and we really came together as a team during that match," said Australian national Maley. "Our problem was in maintaining possession and not creating enough attacking opportunities in our phase play. That's what hurt us."
However, Maley is optimistic his players will step up to the challenge of playing Laos once again.
"I've seen some good things in training this past month, and I think we'll continue to improve. We want our guys to play hard, relax, focus and play together as a team, not as individuals. If we do all that, we can win on Saturday."
Cambodia and Laos have met six times since first facing each other in 2005, with Cambodia winning the first three matches and Laos the last three.
Laos coach Ian Melhuish, who is also Australina, expects another nail biter Saturday.
"I expect another close one, probably not being decided until the final minutes. We are both very evenly matched, so anything can happen," added Melhuish. "This is such a great rivalry, and it's good for rugby development for both nations."
Melhuish's Laos team for Saturday's match will be nearly identical to the squad fielded at the HSBC 5 Nations tournament with the one notable exception being the absence of fullback William Luangrath, who will be unable to join the team due to academic commitments in the U.K.
Luangrath, who holds dual Laos-UK citizenship, has been a starter on the Laos squad for the past two years, and has been one of the linchpins of their offensive attack.
Maley announced his team selections for Saturday's match last night, and they feature a few changes from the previous Laos encounter. Most notable is the halfback position, where 20-year-old Phon Bophan gets the starting nod over veteran Pich Ratana. "Bophan has impressed me during our trainings," stated Maley. He's quick, he's got good hands, and he makes some excellent passes off rucks. This is now his chance to step up."
Generally, the Koupreys are injury-free, with the one exception being Aussie workhorse Ralph McMillan who is suffering from strained knee ligaments.
McMillan is currently listed to start at the tight head prop position, although Maley said his status could change just before kickoff.
"We'll see how he feels during warm-ups," remarked Maley. "We'll make the final decision then."
In addition to the men's match, the Cambodian and Lao women will play a 10-a-side match starting at 3pm, with Cambodian junior development matches in the under 20 and under 15 divisions kicking off the day's action at 1:30pm. Admission to all matches is free.