The Cambodian national rugby team look for an improvement on last year as they play hosts to the Asian 5 Nations Southeast Regional Rugby tournament.
Sunday June 20
Cambodia v Brunei – 4pm
Wednesday June 23
Brunei v Laos – 4pm
Saturday June 26
Cambodia v Laos – 4pm
THE HSBC Asian 5 Nations Southeast Asia Regional Rugby Tournament is set to kick off Sunday, with Cambodia looking to improve on last year’s disappointing performances in their opening match against Brunei.
This year’s tournament, which is competed by Cambodia, Brunei and last year’s champions Laos, sees each nation play the others once at Phnom Penh’s Old Stadium.
Cambodia made its 2010 international debut in a match against Laos last month, losing a heartbreaker in Vientiane in the final seconds 16-14, after being down 16-0 with 15 minutes to go.
In last year’s tournament held in Savannakhet, Laos, the Cambodian team – known as the Koupreys – went winless with a 21-10 loss to Brunei and an 8-3 defeat by Laos.
Newly appointed national coach Richie Flanagan said the side expected to improve despite losing several key players to injury, including big Fijian-Cambodian Ben Ryland who is out for the tournament with a torn calf muscle.
“We have home advantage, and we know the stadium,” declared Flanagan. “We played the grand final there this year.”
The coach revealed that he knew little of their Sunday opponents Brunei, having seen them play only once last year. “They have a big, formidable pack,” he said. “Man for man, they probably have a bigger side. They’ll be tough to beat.”
Ray Leos, acting secretary general of the Cambodian Federation of Rugby, noted the strengths of the visiting sides.
“Brunei will be very physical, and it just depends on if their backline is serviceable,” he said.
“Based on past performances, Laos should be considered the slight favourite.”
Leos also pointed out that coach Flanagan was still getting used to the demanding job following the loss to Laos last month.
“It was initially difficult for Richie to get adjusted to the challenges of coaching here in Cambodia, especially with the lack of physical, financial and player resources,” the secretary asserted. “But he’s done a fine job with the guys, and they are slowly coming together as a team.”
The HSBC Asian 5 Nations is now in its third year, with the Premier division consisting of five teams – currently Japan, Kazakhstan, Korea, Hong Kong and the Arabian Gulf - while the four lower leagues each have four teams. Winners of each season gain promotion at the expense of the last-placed finishers in the above division.
The Southeast Asia Regional Tournament meanwhile is the lowest leg of the competition, with no promotion or relegation coming from the tournament. Leos stated the aim of the “development” tournament is to “foster competition and foster development” among Asian countries.
“It’s to encourage participation and to provide exposure for the sport in Asia,” he added.
Cambodia won the first tournament in 2006 when it consisted of four teams including Indonesia. Leos said Qatar may join the competition in 2011, with the hopes of a promotion-relegation system similar to that in the higher four divisions to be implemented.
Admission at Old Stadium is free for all games.