Cambodian players (in white) wrestle a Laotian player to the ground in the concluding match of the Asian 5 Nations Division V series at the Old Stadium on Saturday. Photograph: Sreng Meng Srun/Phnom Penh Post
Laos were brutally efficient in their 58-7 demolition of Cambodia in the final showdown of the HSBC Asian 5 Nations Division V rugby series at the Old Stadium on Saturday.
Laos deservingly claimed top honours in the three-team tournament with a combined tally of 128 points, conceding into the bargain just seven points each to Brunei and Cambodia.
While the huge Laotian pack sliced the hosts’ resistance and resolve at their choosing, the visitors’ staple defence was rarely stretched.
Two previous meetings between the region’s familiar foes had been cliffhangers – a missed kick or a messed tackle standing between the two.
Not this time. Laos trampled all over Cambodia, imposing their collective strength with 10 trys, a few of them soft, and four conversions.
Cambodia’s lone try from scrum half Luke Wilkie came a few minutes before the final whistle. Too little, too late.
On the day, only wind seemed to challenge Christopher Mastaglio’s kicking consistency and accuracy. He missed out on six kicks, a far cry from his perfect Thursday when he was on a roll against Brunei.
On one occasion, the cross field breeze blew the ball out of the peg twice and he couldn’t complete the kick within the stipulated one minute.
The victory lifted Laos to champions status with a tally of 12 points, underlining their new-found vigour in rugby development.
Brunei, on the back of their 19-15 victory over Cambodia in the opening game on Tuesday, finished second ahead of Cambodia, who ended up losing both their matches.
The upshot of this disappointing end for the home side is that the Koupreys will have to go through a qualification cycle next year.
Centre Anousith Paipanya jinked through the Cambodian defence to fire the first salvo for Laos. Christopher Mastaglio couldn’t find the range with his conversion but within minutes, he more than made up for that miss with an aggressive try.
Full back William Langrith zigzagged his way to two brilliant trys with Phoutthavong Phoupet adding another as Laos switched ends with an impressive 29-0 on the board.
Cambodia just couldn’t rouse themselves for a battle and the marked drop in the intensity meant that Laos continued plying their tough trade with trys.
Hooker Nicolas Sisombath carried his bulk and brutality to three big five-pointers and, as a fitting finale, it was Christopher Mastaglio who hammered the last nail with his second try of the match.
If at all there was a blemish in the tourists’ dominant show, it was the yellow card bookings in the second half of flanker Lee Sheridan and substitute Vang Ddeny. Those sin-bins hardly made Laos flinch.
Apart from the misery on the pitch, Cambodia also suffered a few injury setbacks and expulsion of flanker Vong Vannak late in the second half for two yellow bookings. While No 8 Dan Wetherall aggravated an injury he had carried to the pitch, substitute Seng Piseth hobbled out of the ground with a serious leg injury.
“We played two great rugby games. We had a very strong structure throughout and once again our line speed was the key,” said Laos coach Shirley Russell in an interview with the Post after the match.
“Cambodia did fight back in the second half but we were ready for that,” she added.
Russell, who also holds an advisory role in the Laos Rugby Federation, said the immediate task would be to make a thorough assessment and go for fresh recruitments to strengthen the team.
Cambodia’s head coach Richard Flanagan, who is likely to step aside as the national coach following the end of his two-year term, conceded the Laotians were “very strong.”
“The result was disappointing. There were certain things which didn’t work our way and those injuries hurt us too. I had to use the full bench,” he said.
While Flanagan makes way for a new coach to guide Cambodian rugby fortunes, indications from the Irishman himself are that he may well assist the team as a player in next year’s qualification bid.
In an effort to give young rugby hopefuls a sense of the occasion and feel of big time excitement, the Cambodian Rugby Federation arranged a 15-minute exhibition game between the U13 sides from ASPECA and PSE during the half time of Saturday’s match.
To contact the reporter on this story: H S Manjunath at [email protected]