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Stade Khmer learn valuable lessons from tourney losses

Cambodian rugby team Stade Khmer won just one of their five games in the annual Bangkok 10s International tournament over the weekend in Thailand

LOCAL rugby side Stade Khmer have returned home after competing in the Bangkok 10s International tournament over the weekend. Having nearly made good on their promise to field exclusively Cambodian players – with just two of the 16-strong squad being expatriates – the team took the daylong bus ride to Bangkok Friday with trepidation. Indeed, many of the squad had never traveled outside the Kingdom before.

Twenty four international teams, hailing from as far afield as New Zealand, Japan, France, Fiji, Samoa and India, gathered at Patana school playfields in Bangkok’s suburbs to play out the annual competition.

The draw to form six groups of four teams for the first round of the tournament – to be played on Saturday - was quite cruel on Stade Khmer, who were pitted against the New Zealand Legends, the Air Asia Cobras from Malaysia and the Manila Nomads from the Philippines.

Saturday’s two first games saw the Kiwi and Malay sides inflict heavy defeats on the Cambodian outfit, despite courageous tackles against far superior rivals. The lightning fast Cambodian wingers proved ineffective against opponents weighing in an average of 90 kilograms, who left them without the ammunition to burn up the field.

However, the third game against the expatriate team from Manila was more evenly contested. Stade Khmer took the lead at the end of the first half with a try in the corner by Mut Sarom, after a good collective move by Cambodian runners.

Em Rattana successfully kicked the difficult conversion angle to put his side up by seven.

In the second half, the Nomads awoke to score a try and reduce the point gap to two. A stressful final few moments saw the match hang precariously in the balance, and to the Cambodian’s despair, the Nomads swept through to score a try in the last 10 seconds to clinch the win, and condemn Stade Khmer to bottom place in the group.

The Kingdom hadn’t won a game, but they had certainly won the admiration and respect of fellow competitors. “Your guys have the smallest bodies, but they also have the biggest heart,” said one player after the group games concluded Saturday.

Sunday’s shuffle levels off standard
Sunday saw teams reorganised into new competition brackets according to their exploits in the previous day, giving Stade Khmer the opportunity to face teams of a closer standard. The Cambodians were able to show that tackles are not their only skills, winning their first game 12-0 against international business school INSEAD with fast-attacking waves to carry the ball behind enemy lines. Tries came from Man Salida and Dul Khemarin.

Stade Khmer’s fifth and final game of the weekend against sturdy players from India proved one game too much. The players were exhausted by a physically demanding schedule in sweltering conditions, and were easily outplayed by their opponents. In the end, it was time to celebrate the end of a tournament full of experience for the young Cambodians.

“If we want to raise the rugby level in Cambodia, Cambodian players must face different styles of rugby,” stated Guilain Brasset, president of Stade Khmer club. “As we target the senior Cambodian Premiership title, gaining experience against tough players is a real asset for us.”

Stade Khmer treasurer Romain Lalouette also applauded the club’s decision to give Cambodians the chance to compete in the tournament. “It is part of Stade Khmer philosophy to allow Cambodian players to develop their own skills,” he asserted. “We aim to train our players to be able to handle the team by themselves in a few years, both on the rugby field and at organisation level. It will take a bit of time, as you cannot get rugby experience within a few months, but events like the Bangkok 10s are definitely an important step towards this goal.”

Despite a plethora of light wounds and bruises, everybody agreed with captain Phan Sophea, who affirmed they would “definitely come back next year”.

The grand final Sunday saw New Zealand outfit Southbridge – with whom national captain Dan Carter started his career – emerge victorious over compatriots Pakuranga.

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