The Cambodian rugby team flew to Vientiane yesterday ahead of tomorrow’s all-or-nothing second leg of their home-and-away series in Division V of the Asian 5 Nations against Laos, with the prestigious Mekong Cup at stake.
The Cambodian side ran into a few injury worries in the back of the pack during their sensational comeback on July 17, when they were just two points shy at the wire in a pulsating 21-19 finish.
According to team management, those niggles have been sorted and the team is in the best of shape and raring to go.
Cambodia coach Richard Flann-agan squarely blamed the home-game loss on a string of first-half penalties Laotian kicker Chris Mastoglio ruthlessly converted.
Laos coach Ian McLeish lavished praise on the Koupreys for a stirring late charge that included scrum half Phorn Bophan’s daring dash to the line for a five-pointer in the dying minutes of the game.
“The team is looking forward to this trip, and it’s great experience to play in an international venue,” Flannagan told the Post yesterday.
“We have to win by at least a three-point margin. It is possible. Winning, and bringing the Cup home, is a very realistic target.”
Laos will again be relying on full- back Chalenunesouk Anousith to crack the Cambodian firewall and produce the random break-ins he is feared for.
Mastoglio is the key man for Laos when it comes to keeping the scoreboard ticking with penalties and conversions, or in creating openings with intelligent cross-field kicks.
Fullback Nhab Rotha, whose first-half try at home took everyone – including the opposition – by surprise, could well be a central figure in Cambodia’s hit squad.
Phorn Bophan, known for his sudden surprises, is also a player to watch.
Pich Ratana’s kicking skills will be put to the test, and the Koupreys need him more than ever to deliver the goods tomorrow.
An exciting game is in prospect at 5pm at the Chao Anouvong Stadium, and the wafer-thin two-point lead that Laos enjoy will just add to the tension.