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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Koupreys lose by slimmest margin

Koupreys lose by slimmest margin

Cambodia’s rugby team succumbs to a 10-9 defeat by Brunei in their opening fixture of the Asian 5 Nations Southeast Regional rugby tournament as second-half sin bins prove costly


Cambodian rugby team captain Pich Ratana (centre) gets tackled by a Brunei player during the opening match of the Asian 5 Nations Southeast regional tournament at Phnom Penh’s Old Stadium Sunday. JOE GARRISON

Brunei’s Hj Rozaimienizam Hasi Jainal (centre, with ball) is congratulated by scrum half Muhamad Ziyad bin Hj Ramlee (left) and teammates after scoring the game’s only try Sunday. JOE GARRISON

TWO second-half sin-bins and an injury proved costly for Cambodia in their 10-9 defeat to Brunei at Phnom Penh’s Old Stadium Sunday. A spirited second-half fightback by the Koupreys, who clawed back to within a point in their opening game of the Asian 5 Nations Southeast Regional tournament, was stymied by yellow cards for lock Sopha Yun and scrum half Em Ratana.

Slight favourites coming into the match due to their size advantage, the visitors’ powerful forward row dominated early exchanges, at times looking like they would steamroll their way over the hosts. However, dogged defending by Cambodia and some poor ball-handling by Brunei began to swing the match in favour of the home team. Ultimately, poor decision-making meant it was not enough to gain revenge for last years defeat.

“It was disappointing to lose by one point at the end of the game,” admitted Cambodia and Sisowath Knights lock Robert Baker. “We expected them to tire in the second half: Then we could use our speed and endurance and come back at them. It did work out, but not quite the way we planned.”

Against the run of play Cambodia took the lead early on, when captain and flyhalf Pich Ratana kicked a seventh-minute penalty following a good drive down the middle by center Arashad Lovy.

However, a steady spell of pressure soon saw Brunei take control in the 11th minute through a try from centre Hj Rozaimienizam Hj Jainal. A quick move begun by captain Ahmad Faez bin Haji Anuar on the Cambodian right played in the number 13 who burst through the Kouprey’s over-stretched defence and touched down on the left of the posts. Flyhalf Petrus Tuan, one of several naturalised players in the Brunei team, scored the conversion that increased the lead to four, with the score looking just reward for their early dominance.

Rather than open the floodgates, the try seemed to galvanise the Koupreys as penetrating runs by first lock Sopha Yun and then Arashad Lovy again almost snatched the lead back. Instead, they settled for a penalty, successfully kicked between the posts by Pich Ratana on the 19th minute to bring the score to within one point.

Bad luck followed after the drinks break, as the Koupreys suffered both injury and insult. Fullback Chan Samedi was taken off with a dislocated shoulder after a heavy challenge, and Brunei winger Ak Md Muizzuddin kicked a long-range penalty to maintain a four-point cushion at halftime.

“Same again,” Cambodia coach Richie Flanagan said during his pitch-side team talk. “They’re gonna come out, in the first 5-10 minutes of the second half and they’re gonna hit hard. We have to absorb that for 10 minutes and then after that we can work on our game-plan.”

Flanagan’s tactics were disrupted after just five minutes of the restart, as stamping in the aftermath of a Koupreys scrum led to Em Ratana’s trip to the bench. The resultant penalty for the infringement was kicked by Tuan from distance, striking the crossbar and bounced back into play.

The second half followed the pattern of Brunei focusing on rucks and trying to force their way through, while the Koupreys attempted a running game that worked in fits and starts, often being let down by poor kicking. Flanagan had implored the team at halftime to take more kicks at goal, but a 54th-minute penalty attempt by winger Khemarin Dul was well short.

A successful 70th-minute attempt by Pich Ratana should have led to a grandstand finish, with impressive center Vireak Vannak looking the man most likely to make a breakthrough.

Unfortunately, another sin-binning, this time for Sopha Yun for elbowing, meant that the game petered out as the Koupreys failed to break through.

Brunei’s New Zealander coach, Ben Bourne, was relieved to have gained the win. “It was pretty tough actually, pretty hard to predict who was gonna win especially in the second half,” he stated. “I thought Cambodia came back really well.”

Despite the defeat, Flanagan, seemed more upbeat than his counterpart. “Overall, I was very impressed with our team. I thought [Brunei] looked tired in the second half. I was confident we’d go ahead and go for victory. But for some silly sinbins, a few handling errors and kicking the ball away when we shouldn’t have, we could have won.”

Looking ahead to their next game against Laos Saturday, Flanagan was optimistic. “We’ll see how Laos and Brunei goes” on Wednesday, he asserted. “It’s still gonna be a very tough match for Laos, and they only have a three day turnaround. So if we get over a few injuries we’ll be alright. I’ll be quietly confident for the next game.”

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