A top-class peformance by the Cambodian Rugby Union team to overcome a tricky Laos side 24-8 Saturday at Old Stadium helped heal the wounds from a last gasp loss to them in March.
Cambodia fly half Francois Bleriot (second left) looks to release to teammate Kham Saroeun (right) during their friendly match against Laos at Old Stadium on Saturday.
LED by the standout play of veteran fly half Francois Bleriot and young half back Phorn Bophan, an inspired Cambodia Koupreys team dominated play all afternoon, beating Laos 24-8 in their rugby friendly Saturday at Phnom Penh's Old Stadium. It was sweet revenge for Cambodia, as the Koupreys bounced back from their heartbreaking last second 8-3 loss to the Laotians in March during the HSBC 5 Nations Southeast Asia Regional Tournament.
"We wanted to make a statement today," said a beaming Cambodian No 8 Chey Sophal after the match. "People were starting to say how Cambodia wasn't so good anymore and how Laos was now so much better than us. But we played hard today, didn't make many mistakes, and we showed everyone what we can do when we put our minds to it."
Cambodia dominated play in the opening minutes, controlling the majority of possessions and spending most of their time in Laos territory. Phorn Bophan made good on two penalty kicks in the 9th and 19th minutes, giving Cambodia a 6-0 opening advantage.
Meanwhile, some ferocious Cambodian tackling kept Laos at bay throughout most of the first half, with the Kouprey defense bottling up Laos fly half Chris Mastaglio, normally a key player in the Laotian offensive attack.
Laos got their first break of the day after 22 minutes, when Phorn Bophan knocked on Mastaglio's unsuccessful penalty kick attempt, resulting in a Laos five metre scrum. However, Laos was unable to capitalise, with an offside penalty near the goal turning the ball over to Cambodia.
Laos finally got on the scoreboard in the 29th minute as Mastaglio nailed a drop goal from 12 metres, narrowing the score to 6-3.
Cambodia answered back with two minutes left in the half when a Bleriot kick from midfield sailed over the head of two Laos defenders near the 15-metre line. Kouprey captain Vannak Vireak gave chase, picking up the loose ball and tumbling in for the try, although Phorn Bophan's conversion attempt was unsuccessful and kept the score 11-3 to Cambodia at the halftime whistle.
As the second half ensued, Cambodia extended its lead close to the hour mark as Phorn Bophan booted his second successful penalty kick of the afternoon, making it 14-3.
Laos then saw a glimmer of hope, as it took the kickoff and began to move down the field with some effective kicking and inside running by its backs. At the Cambodian 10-metre line, centre Mit Oudone Keohanham took a quick pass off a ruck, found a gap, and darted into the corner for the try on 62 minutes. Mastaglio's conversion attempt failed, but the Laotians were now within striking distance, trailing by only six points.
Cambodia quickly dashed any hopes of a Laos comeback, as Frenchman Bleriot led his team quickly down the field with some sharp passing and well placed kicks.
Aussie prop Ralph McMillan capped the scoring drive in the 69th minute, as he barreled in from 10 metres to score the try, making it 19-8 Cambodia.
Cambodia's Kham Sarouen (left) attempts to shrug off a Laos tackle during their friendly game Saturday.
After Phorn Bophan missed the conversion, the Laotians took the kickoff, but were unable to pierce the Cambodian defence, as Bleriot and flanker Ut Vuthy instigated some fierce tackling.
Cambodia capped off the day's scoring with two minutes to play, as halfback Pich Ratana, who had come on to replace Phorn Bophan moments earlier, found a gap near the touchline and scampered in from 12-metres, giving the Koupreys their final 24-8 advantage.
Cambodia coach Peter Maley was effusive in his praise for the play of Bleriot and 20-year-old Phorn Bophan.
"Francois was just fantastic today," said Maley. "He ran our backline well, had some good runs, and his tackling was awesome. Bophan also did a great job. He made a few mistakes, like dropping that kick early on, but he recovered and played well."
Maley felt his team was much more effective than in the previous match against Laos.
"Our defending was excellent again today, but we also passed and supported well," said Maley. "Our backs really stepped up."
Laos coach Ian Melhuish also praised the Cambodian effort. "Cambodia had an excellent game today and we couldn't do much," he said.
"This is a great competition and I think it raises the skill levels for both teams."
Although Cambodia gained the victory, Laos retains possession of the Mekong Cup trophy for 2009 by virtue of their previous victory over Cambodia in March. The two nations will meet again for another two match series in 2010. The overall series stands at four wins for Cambodia, three wins for Laos, and no draws.
"We respect them [Laos] a lot and I think they respect us too," stated Chey Sophal. "We look forward to some hard matches with them again next year."
In the curtain raiser earlier in the day, the Laos women defeated the Cambodian women in a 10-a-side match, 15-5.
Photos by Nick Sells (www.nicksellsphotography.com)