Cambodian (in white) and Lao players go up for a lineout during the 2011 Mekong Cup first leg at the Old Stadium on Saturday. Photo by: SRENG MENG SRUN
With Chris Mastoglio kicking in three penalties to compliment two breathtaking trys from halfback Chaleunesouk Anousith, Laos staved off a late swoop by Cambodia at the Old Stadium on Saturday for a thrilling 21-19 verdict in the first leg of the new format Mekong Cup in association with the Asian 5 Nations.
Storming into an early 13-0 lead, the visitors extended their hold after the break to 16-5 and then hung on for dear life as Cambodia scrum half Phorn Bophan produced a stunning try off a wraparound move minutes before the end as kicker Pich Ratana fired in the conversion.
The home side had got to within two points and were charging like bulls to get back when the final whistle came to Laos’ rescue.
The teams now head to Vientiane for the second leg on July 30 with the final points difference between them determining who will be lifting the Mekong Cup. Laos carry a slender two-point advantage into their home game, but Cambodia head coach Richard Flanagan remained optimistic.
“I am disappointed with the result, but I am relieved that we got so close and we have lot to play for,” he said after Saturday’s game.
“Penalties killed us. We had injury to our loosehead and we couldn’t get out of the scrums well enough.”
The Irish coach noted they still have a “fairly big squad to choose from” for their away tie in two weeks. “We know what to expect and we know our target,” he added.
Laos coach Ian McLeish, meanwhile, shared his own thoughts on the match.
“We started very well and fell away in the second half. I knew it was coming,” he said.
“I am happy we managed to win ... We go back take a good look at what we have and be ready for the next game.”
Laos won a series of early turnovers and showed a lot more vigour in attack. The visitors put the squeeze on so well that the home side was often in full retreat.
Kicker Mastoglio read the wind superbly to crash a penalty through to set the score ticking for Laos. The early flutter saw Anousith break free from the Cambodian claws to dart home for a neat try, as a Mastoglio conversion made it 10-0 for Laos.
Another superbly crafted penalty by Mastoglio stretched the lead to 13, before Cambodia managed to fire a loose cannon.
A sparkling run and pass saw Cambodia full back Nhab Rotha take flight and land perfectly for the home side’s first clutch of five points, although kicker Pich Ratana missed the conversion.
Even as Laos got going again with their third successful penalty and Anousith’s second try for a 21-5 lead, along came a stunning effort from Nhab Rotha who got out of a tight Laos corner for a daring try. This time Pich Ratana was on the mark with his conversion and Cambodia had edged closer 21-12.
Turnover rates were alarmingly high as the sides scrambled desperately for possession and Laos’ dogged defence cracked as Cambodia trooped in to within metres of the line following a cross field kick.
Amid mounting tension, Phorn Bophan got home and Ratana added the conversion. However, it was just too little too late as a highly energetic Cambodia was beaten by a bare two points in the shadow of the winning post.