Flyhalf Chris Mastaglio puts on an 18-point show during his team’s strong 23-5 performance
The Leopards of Brunei had the spots kicked off them by a superlative showing from Laos’ England-born flyhalf Chris Mastaglio, who amassed 18 points in their 23-5 win at Phnom Penh’s Old Stadium on Wednesday.
Led by their number 10, a dominant performance by Laos belied their significant size disadvantage and put on a display that was high in technical skill and determination in the second game of the Asian 5 Nations Southeast Regional tournament.
“In rugby, size isn’t the only thing, you know,” the beaming Mastaglio asserted. “We wanted to run them about – they’re a big set of lads so we wanted to use the ball smartly. It worked, and the scoreboard kept ticking over.”
The ticking started in the seventh minute, as a poorly taken Brunei line-out in their own half led to a penalty on the left for Laos that was duly converted by Mastaglio.
Line-out trouble continued to dog Brunei for the rest of the game, as their more disciplined opponents kept up the pressure on set plays and scrums.
As well as consistently finding touch, two more penalties were successfully dispatched by Mastaglio before halftime to make the score 9-0 at the break.
Brunei initially came out the stronger team to start the second half, with a try eight minutes in by hooker Mohammad Aimaduddin Bin Haji Ali to put them within striking distance. But an answering try by prop Phanavan Boutthavong and three penalties from Mastalglio – including a brilliant effort from the left touchline in the 75th minute that he sent unerringly between the posts – pulled Laos out of sight and made for a comfortable win.
One person who was not comfortable after the match was Brunei coach Ben Bourne. Looking downcast, he seemed baffled by the Leopards’ poor performance. “We weren’t doing what we were supposed to in the first half,” he said. “I don’t know what went wrong. Maybe lack of team spirit; who knows.”
Bourne added that despite his disappointment, he thought the tournament had been a good experience for his team.
Laos coach Ian Melhuish was delighted by his team’s disciplined showing. “A win is always good, but the concentration they showed is the main thing,” he said.
“[We] tend to get in front and then want to stop, but they played out the game today, which was the most pleasing thing for me.”
Looking ahead to the final game of the tournament against hosts Cambodia on Saturday, Melhuish predicted a tough match: “I know [Cambodia] will be up for it, because they love playing Laos,” he said. “It’ll be a different style of play for sure.”
Watching the game from the stands, members of the Cambodian team and staff sized up their rivals for the upcoming tournament decider, where the Mekong Cup will also be up for grabs.
“It’s going to be hard; Laos were the better team,” admitted Cambodia lock Robert Baker.
Baker felt fatigue may have been a factor in the Leopards’ disappointing showing. Brunei only had a three-day turnaround for this game, as will Laos for the next one. “We’ll have seven,” he noted. “Last year we beat Laos 23-8 on home soil, and we’re going to front up, put it that way.”