Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Koupreys attempt to forget last year's bad memories

Koupreys attempt to forget last year's bad memories

Koupreys attempt to forget last year's bad memories

Cambodian National Rugby team will hope to return to winning ways as they travel to Laos today to play in the HSBC Asian 5 Nations regional tourney

 Koupreys select captain

Photo by: JOE GARRISON

Pich Rattana will captain the Koupreys for the regional tournament in Laos starting today.

HALFBACK Pich Rattana has been selected as team captain for the 2009

Cambodian Koupreys national rugby team. The 26-year-old skipper of

Phnom Penh club PSE Garudas captained the Koupreys last year and in

2007, and is entering his fourth season with the national team. "It's

an honor to once again be able to represent my country in rugby," said

Pich Rattana. "We will try our best to make the Cambodian people happy

and proud." RAY LEOS

AS the Cambodian national rugby team, the "Koupreys", prepare to take the pitch in their HSBC Asian 5 Nations Southeast Asia regional tournament opener against Brunei at 8:30pm tonight in Savannakhet, Laos, a big question remains over which team will show up.

Will it be the confident and fearless crew that ran roughshod over their beleaguered opponents in the 2006 tourney in Phnom Penh?  Or will it be the disorganised and demoralised bunch that embarrassed themselves in Jakarta last year?

Like with almost everything in sport, we won't know a thing until the starting whistle blows.

Here's a closer look at this year's Kouprey squad:

 
Forwards

The front row appears solid with props Chro Kim Seang and Koeut Sovanraksmey and hooker Uk Dara leading the way. It's a strong and mobile group that can hold its own in the sets and can also quickly get to the breakdowns. With all three players now in their fourth year with the Koupreys, there's also loads of experience.  

The locks are also skilled and experienced. Aussie Ralph McMillan and Kiwi Rob Baker have the size and ability to mix it up with the big foreign players of Brunei and Laos. McMillan, a long-time fixture on the Cambodian rugby scene, missed last year's tournament after playing in 2006 and 2007.

The loose forwards are also a veteran bunch, with flankers Ut Vuthy and Vong Vannak, and number eight Chey Sophal the probable starters. The quietly intense Chey Sophal and the wiry, pony-tailed Vong Vannak are fleet runners and ferocious tacklers, willing to take anyone on, no matter the size. A former back, Ut Vuthy brings a silky smooth running style that can be devastating in the open field, once he gets his hands on the ball.

Backs

Ironically, given the past success of the Kouprey backs, this may be the biggest question mark for the team this year. Three of the seven projected starters in the backline are first-year players.

Halfback Pich Ratana, flyhalf Chan Samedi, and centre Vannak Vireak return for their fourth seasons. Along with Frenchman Francois Bleriot at the other centre position, this is a capable group. Bleriot, a physical education teacher at Phnom Penh's Lycee Descartes, is another longtime fixture on the local rugby scene. Like McMillan, he missed last year's competition after playing for the Koupreys in 2006 and 2007.

Newcomers will likely fill the remainder of the starting backline spots, with Bros Sophorn and Sam Chanphearom slotted in on the wings, and Nheb Rotha likely getting the nod at fullback.

All three are fast, elusive runners and decent tacklers. But it remains to be seen whether these youngsters, who are all still in their teens, can handle the pressure and intensity of test match rugby.

Reserves

Unlike last year, when the Koupreys suffered from a weak bench, this year's squad features a number of able substitutes.

Kham Saroeun and Lach Sopheara, both starters on last year's Kouprey team, provide needed depth on the backline, while lock Choeng Veasna and hooker/prop Hang Sophea Noreak lead the reserves in the pack.

A wildcard on the Kouprey bench this year could be second-year player Lim Pun Pov, a jack-of-all-trades who can play in the backline, the second row or in the loose forwards.

All in all, at least on paper, the 2009 Koupreys look an improved side.  

But is it a side good enough to win this week in Laos?

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