Southerners Clinch Chalawan Cup as Rugby Returns to South
PHUKET — Only as the Southerners’ tireless No. 8 produced a 50-meter sprint to ground the ball under the posts did victory become apparent to the visiting team.
Punching through a resilient Vagabonds defence as the match drew to a close, Gregory K, or Bathrobe Greg, added a fourth try to put the win beyond doubt, silencing the rowdy crowd at the Thanyapura Phuket Sports Centre.
Though a seemingly lopsided result, a late score by the home side had threatened a resurgence that was ultimately not to be, granting the away team the inaugural Chalawan Cup.
“We don’t know when we’ll get to play rugby again. So let’s play as if it was our last time,” Southerners French Captain Luc said during the pre-match huddle, almost calling for a symbolic 21-point margin victory – and the team heeded his advice.
Rugby was the prime winner Saturday as the Bangkok Southerners defeated the Phuket Vagabonds by 5-35, marking not only the first 15s match for either side in 2021, but an important step for the sport’s return in Thailand at amateur level, following a difficult year impacted by COVID-19.
The away team’s pack started strongly, as rehearsed set pieces bore their fruit and combined with the Southerners backs’ trademark piss-off-knock-on tactic. This would mysteriously change as a front row of Andy, Mon and Laurent threw one glare across the backline in the opening minutes.
That one warning sufficed, as centers Chris and Wales’ Hywel, or High Well in French, exploited the Vagabonds’ weaknesses at the breakdown to put the wings through for a flurry of early tries.
It was obvious the team had been keen to play. So keen in fact, that Colin even made for the airport without his passport a day earlier, hoping his Fijian flair would see him through Suvarnabhumi Airport security.
However, it wasn’t all smooth sailing on the pitch, as the Southerners’ backs again teetered over the edge of another death stare from the pack, playing a line as flat as the atmosphere at the Stade de France the night before, resulting in a slew of forward passes. Perhaps an aerial drone shot would have forewarned them of their positioning – we’ll never know.
This would change 50 minutes into the game – coincidentally or not – as Olivier strode in from the distance: jean shorts, flip flops, orange sunglasses, with a cigarette in hand and the cockerel on his chest, looking for his fix of coffee before even contemplating playing.
He proved a talismanic presence for winger James, who in a moment of beautiful skulduggery began a friendly neck-grabbing tussle only to sit back and let the forwards sort it out, breaking the Vagabonds’ momentum and handing the away team control of the game again. The Southerners kept their resolve and extended their lead through Japanese newcomer Matz for a comfortable finish.
“And we only train once a week, imagine if we were training three times,” second-row Thibault said, as coach Zorba’s pre-match hype billing the Bangkok team as Southeast Asia’s best left the Frenchman wondering.
But what the Vagabonds lacked in match time they doubled in eagerness and hospitality. Both teams unified to contest a remarkable third half barbecue event organized by the team’s president & leader who is also a long serving Southerner, Anthony VS.
Scratched red knees and bruised purple eyes fraternized by Bang Tao’s blue water beach, a reminder of why the game’s values make the leaner times worth bearing. Broken wrists and concussions didn’t stop people with a love for rugby from sharing stories over pints.
“We used to get six to 10 people training some months ago,” Anthony VS said about the Vagabonds’ lack of numbers prior to Saturday’s match, making their full squad all the more admirable – a trend the Southerners hope to help prolong as the Chalawan Cup becomes an established yearly fixture.
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