The Cambodian national rugby team, the Koupreys, left Phnom Penh yesterday for the Brunei capital of Bandar Seri Begawan to defend their Asian 5 Nations Division IV title, which they won at home last year.
The Koupreys will play Mongolia today at the Balapan Stadium with the game kicking off at 3:45pm local time (4:45pm Cambodian time). They will then lock horns with the hosts on Saturday in a late evening match (8pm local time).
Cambodia coach Jerome Alfonsi struck a confident tone on the team’s preparations, saying that the players were motivated during the training sessions and were set on achieving the goal of retaining the Division
The Koupreys have had four training stints over the past week and played warm-up games against the Saigon Geckos and Cambodian Barbarians, winning one and narrowly losing the other.
“We made some strategic decisions about the season, the rugby XV skills and training,” Alfonsi told the Post.
“I am happy to confirm that we have no injury worries but we have two players who couldn’t make the trip because of their job commitments, because of which they were unable to train properly and spend five days in Brunei.”
The coach said he expected “a lot” from Stade Khmer centre and player of the season Reth Ra, as well as from Sisowath Knights lock Nong Sovanrado. Alfonsi said he would also be counting on leading performances from captain Vannak Vireak of Khmer rugby club, vice captain Dul Khemrin and scrum-half Jean-Baptiste Suberbie of Stade Khmer.
“Our strengths are our preparation, team solidarity and our capacity to use space very fast,” Alfonsi said. “Our inexperience with away matches could be one of the chinks [in our armour]. For many in the team, this is their first overseas trip.”
Despite the intimidation factor for some, the coach believes his side can win both their matches on foreign soil.
“We have been training for that and only for that,” he said.
At the Old Stadium last July, the Koupreys trampled Brunei into submission with 38-0 and 28-0 victories. However, the Leopards will look to hit back with the home advantage this time round.
Meanwhile, Mongolia is returning to the Asian 5 Nations after a three-year absence due to many of its players also being national team wrestlers and busy with wrestling competitions.