The Cambodian national rugby team, the Koupreys, have lined up a warm-up game against the visiting Saigon Geckos on Saturday in preparation for the forthcoming Asian 5 Nations Division V clashes against hosts Brunei and Mongolia in mid-June.
Intense interest will be joined by a touch of anxiety at the Army Field in Russey Keo district when the game kicks off at 4pm. National coach Jerome Alfonsi is placing great importance on this tune-up match as a trial of strength for the 35 probables before the tougher Brunei test.
“We have a couple of more friendlies planned, but Saturday’s game is a perfect preview when it comes to finalising a list of 23 players and the national team probables know that every one will have to fight for his place,” Alfonsi told the Post yesterday.
Every member of the team is certain to get playing time on the pitch against the Geckos, but what the coach has in mind is to test a few players in new positions and use what he sees to draw up sound formations to help recast the team, especially the front line.
Excitement is also rife that many new faces may be unveiled on Saturday.
“Yes, we have many youngsters who have already shown their rugby skills and motivation to play for the Koupreys. Our team will be a mix of experience and youth,” said Alfonsi, who is also a physical education teacher at the Rene Descartes French school in Phnom Penh.
Few teams in the region play as hard with their forwards as the Geckos, and that is one reason why the Koupreys prefer to warm up with the Saigon side.
Alfonsi has clearly marked out his action priorities. He expects his players’ presence in fighting areas to protect the ball and also have enough time to play with the backs.
“We need to work with our scrum and line out,” the coach added.
Alfonsi, who believes that there is no such thing as a friendly in rugby and that a team is as good as dead if it doesn’t give 100 per cent every time it takes the pitch, is confident every player will perform his best to earn a national cap and make it harder for him to pick the team for the Brunei trip.
The Koupreys play another friendly against the Geckos in early June and wind up their preparations with a final tune-up game against the Cambodia Barbarians before they set off to Bandar Seri Begawan to play Mongolia, who are returning to the annual tournament after a three-year hiatus, on June 19 and home side Brunei on June 21.
Cambodia defeated Brunei 38-0 and 28-0 at the Old Stadium in the only two fixtures of Division V last year and will look to reign as titleholders for another season.