Cambodia has played host to one of rugby’s biggest stars, Francois Trinh-Duc, fly-half for Montpellier Hérault Rugby Club and France’s Six Nations grand-slam winning team.
Though helping Les Bleus to their victory in March was a great achievement for the 23-year-old, a more lasting legacy in Asia could be an even greater feat.
Trinh-Duc, whose grandfather was from Vietnam, was keen to learn about Cambodian culture and history, but said his main goal during his stay in the Kingdom was to help establish ties with rugby clubs back in France and develop Cambodian rugby from the youth level up.
“Although the links will not be professional, I would like to help assist with projects with my club Montpellier and also with Perpignan, who have been in contact with the Cambodian Rugby Federation [CFR],” he said during a press conference at the French Embassy in Phnom Penh yesterday. “One of the targets would be to have some Cambodian players train at the rugby school in Montpellier.”
Trinh-Duc added that it would likely be students from the Pour un Sourire d’Enfant (PSE) school in Stung Meanchey district who would participate if the programme was successfully set up. He spent time with students on Sunday.
Cambodian youth rugby development received glowing reports from former Scotland coach Frank Hadden following his visit to Phnom Penh on June 26. However, during Sunday’s U16s training match at the PSE ground, Trinh Duc flagged up a crucial flaw.
“There seems to be a lack of coaching on the more physical phases of rugby, particularly scrums,” he said. “It’s extremely important that the young players improve their skill at this stage, as otherwise it could be extremely dangerous for them.”
Philippe Monnin, general secretary of the CFR, was also in attendance at the press conference, and acknowledged one fundamental problem that prevents rugby from developing in Cambodia: “We don’t have enough coaches, and so the point Francois [Trinh-Duc] is making is a major factor.
“If we go over 500 [registered players] we will not have enough scrum coaches to cope, and we’ll be in a very precarious position as a federation,” he noted. “If any big accidents happen – anything like Max Brito [Ivory Coast winger who was left paralysed from the neck down following a tackle in the 1995 World Cup] – rugby will end in Cambodia.”
Relations with clubs in France are already beginning to bear fruit. Monin revealed that the CFR are now in talks with two other teams in France from the top 14, Toulouse and Clermont. In addition, the Montpellier women’s team has been asking about a link with the women’s national rugby team in Cambodia.
“Francois [Trinh-Duc] is acting as the go-between for us in Southwest France, so maybe in 2010 we could have special developments and links with all these teams. It’s good news and a big boost for us,” said Monin.