Located in the geographic centre of the Isaan plateau, Maha-sarakham promised much. In addition to the opportunity to mix it up on the field with the local university rugby sides, the prospect of getting down off the field had attracted a large number of front rowers to the Southerners touring party.
Like so many tours before, the tone for the weekend was set on the tour bus. With dreams of sweet rural air and the soft clink San Miguel lites, the innocents welcomed rookies Mark Anderson and Martyn Driscol aboard, and made their way though the familiar traffic of Sukhumvit Road for a behemoth 7 hour journey.
The advance party had identified the charmingly provincial Visu hotel discoth�que for the tourists to congregate upon their arrival. Steele distinguished himself from the crowd of several thousand by joining the female “dancers” on stage. This was a queue to the Maha gay community to advance on the cuter members of the touring party with longing gazes and several attempts at heavy petting. Any potential embarrassment was averted when several tourists succumbed to a miniature version of Hari-kari, ignominiously, by tooth-pick, which even the locals found a little strange.
Saturday morning began slowly. After extracting the last of the tourists (hot-stepper Steele) from their surprisingly heavy slumber, we were welcomed by a large crowd at Maha-sarakham University. At the invitation of our hosts, we divided into groups to coach the aspiring locals in rugby basics. The gentle arts of tackling, passing, rucking, and scrumaging were passed on to a receptive group of high school and university students, who then used these new-found skills to pummel us convincingly over the afternoon’s matches.
Southerners lost the opening game to very well drilled (and extremely fast) Maha-sarakham University by 37-17. The second match against the youngsters from Roi Et RFC was lost by slightly less, 42-31, before the Tourists finally pulled themselves back together to beat a Roi Et Barbarians side by 26-0 in a match shortened by dehydration, exhaustion, and age.
Highlights of the afternoon included a Hip-Hop performance by Roi Et students (quite a surprise); Smith, 150kg, being up-ended by a 70kg opponent (also a surprise, for the unfortunate players crushed in the aftermath); a nasty head clash between Doherty and Sears (that hospitalised the latter); Perkins dribbling the ball over the line; Sinclair’s snail-paced passing from half back (that caused the aforementioned head-clash); and the elusive Mr Steele – who played 3 games at inside-centre, without making one single tackle.
A couple of the locals agreed to aid us in the final match against the Roi Et Barbarians, but seemed a little unsure as to where they had been asked to play. Undeterred by an insurmountable language barrier when instructing one of ringers to play on the “wing”, Driscoll cleverly and urgently mimed the player into position by flapping his arms like a chicken.
Happy to end the afternoon with a win, we joined the players and their generous supporters at Maha-sarakham University for a feast of Isaan culture – food, dance, and music. The pacific trio of Baivatu, Sinclair, and Anderson performing a Haka in turn, which met rousing approval from the assembled crowd (and much amusement to the tourists familiar with the correct version).
At the insistence of Mr Calver, the Tourists returned to the township to punish one another in the traditional post-game fine session, followed by some Frommelling, and a little more dancing – the dark-horse trio of Orr, Calver and Doherty surpassing Steele’s antics of the previous night.
The evening (and tour) progressed without further incident for most. However, Rookie Driscoll got the shock of his short life when retiring to his room at 2am – discovering his partially clad room-mate receiving a vigorous rub down by a buxom “Masseuse” older than his own grandmother. As they say, what goes on Tour�