New Southerner Tristan, who it turns out is just as keen on writing as he is on the amber ale, has produced an epic tour report on Rugby section’s recent trip to Cambodia to contest the Phnom Penh Rugby 10’s…
Scroll down to view more pics from the tour and associated shenanigans…
THE BUILD UP
It was a balmy Friday afternoon when a small selection of representatives from Southerners Rugby Club made their way to Suvarnabhumi International Airport to the ANZ Royal Angkor 10s Rugby Tournament in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. In the days leading up to the Cambodian tour, the original squad of 14 players (plus Darrel) had unfortunately been culled to a much tighter group of 11 players (plus Darrel) due to a less-worthy faction of Southerner members who offered up a raft of paper-thin cancellation excuses – a futile attempt to conceal their lack of commitment to the club, and to the game.
Nevertheless, the mood among the men at the airport was jubilant. There was a palpable air of enthusiasm to get stuck into some rugby action.
Two of our more experienced touring players, Bang and Laurent, failed to catch their designated flight out of Bangkok (useless!). Bang’s incompetence is perhaps more remarkable considering that among the 11 touring players (plus Darrel), Bang lives closest to the airport. Shamefully, the young Thai flanker held his rather attractive younger sister accountable for his misdemeanour. To their credit, both Bang and Laurent purchased additional tickets at considerable cost, thus keeping our squad of 11 men (plus Darrel) intact.
Please note both Bang and Laurent belong to the forward pack and that no member of the backline missed the flight.
The journey to our hotel lodging in Phenom Penh went relatively smoothly and was poisoned only by the presence of Matt ‘Benedict Arnold’ Munn, who had decided to betray his fellow Southerners that weekend by playing for an opposing team in the tournament. After exploiting the excellent organisational skills and general good nature of our team captain, Skinny, Benedict disembarked from his free bus trip and disappeared into the night, not to be seen or heard from again until kick-off the following day. In contrast to the treacherous Munn, three of the team’s more acute alcoholics greeted us in the hotel lobby with friendly smiles of comradery. As unofficial club ambassadors, the culturally receptive Darrel, Belly and Siam had decided to arrive a day early in order to take in the sights of the country’s capital on a bicycle tour that had been scheduled for early Friday morning. Given their respective predisposition for alcohol abuse, however, it is little wonder that the bicycle tour failed to eventuate and the only confirmed sights the trio took in were of the inside of a gay club late Thursday night. The three early birds have remained silent regarding any exchanges that may have taken place in our absence.
The team took little time to check-in and the tour singlets and hats were quickly distributed – beer in hand – before the team congregated around the swimming pool for the ceremonial haircuts of those brave enough to be sheared. Although the bright red singlets and blue wide brimmed hats were cleverly colour-coded in an attempt to replicate the design of the host country’s flag, it must be said they also had the curious side effect of making the team look like a collection of tampons out for a picnic. The team’s appearance was only made the more hazardous by a combination of the lightning bolt that was cruelly shaved into Rich’s hair and the unspeakable mullet/mohawk that was carved out of Mikey’s hair by Patricio and Belly. While both men strangely relished their new hair styles it was Mikey who seemed to be in his element; in the months leading up to the tournament the young South African constantly articulated his enthusiasm for a tour mullet-to-end-all-mullets and went as far as growing his hair specifically to accentuate its vulgarity. He met with great success in this endeavour. After spending a weekend watching Mikey proudly parade his mullet/mohawk in a manner reminiscent of a jail bird on parole, this reporter felt somewhat vindicated that I had cowardly forgone the ceremonial shearing.
With the team suitably garbed and shaven we set out for the Foreign Correspondents Club (FCC) for what we all agreed would be a quiet night. If our message to the international rugby community was to maintain its integrity it was imperative that the team not destroy what little fitness we had by boozing into the early hours of the morning. Although our intentions were good, the tournament organisers quickly made a mockery of the team’s call for restraint by putting on a free dinner and drinks at the FCC.
As maiden tourists, Rich and myself were assigned as ‘beer bitches’, charged with the all important task of making sure that each Southerner had a beer in his hand at all times. We were kept busy. Meanwhile, Siam appointed himself as the token ‘Buffalo’ master, whose duty it was to ensure that beer was consumed via the left hand and not the right. Siam’s sadistic qualities shone true throughout the weekend as he carried out his duties with the diligence and efficiency of the Third Reich. A right hander to the end, your faithful columnist proved to be an especially easy target for the Fuhrer and I was ordered to execute beer after beer for my constant transgressions.
It was also at the FCC that we rendezvoused with Hooey, a returning Southerner old-boy who happened to be in the neighbourhood for the weekend with his better half, Lianne. Although it is common knowledge amongst rugby players across the world that girlfriends on tour are strictly prohibited, it must be acknowledged that Lianne proved to be, beyond any doubt, an invaluable member of our squad; as a masseuse, a drunkard, and a late night swimmer, her skills went unsurpassed. With a James Brown replica band keeping things funky on the roof top bar of the FCC the now complete squad of 11 players (plus Darrel and Lianne) found it quite easy to be tempted into digging in for the long haul. After making some impressive inroads with the groupies from another rugby team, Patricio, in particular, appeared happy to stay. Eager to show the boys how it’s done, the prop forward from Ecuador glided from one young university sweetheart to the next, no doubt disarming each one of them with his charming Spanish accent. It seemed immaterial to the young lasses that Patricio’s face was decorated with a lavish set of lamb chops and a thick moustache in such a way as to make the man look as if he had just escaped from the same gaol cell with Mikey.
It must have been around midnight when Cinderella’s magical tuk tuk came to take the older, more mature, and more fragile members of the party back to the hotel. Darrel seemed to finally give into the hang over that had been afflicting the poor man since his experience at the gay club, while Patricio chose to give up on trying to forcibly wedge a glass slipper onto the foot of another team’s groupie. The younger, more foolish contingent of Southerner players would not be deterred so easily. Things escalated quickly for the remaining men as we shifted to a smaller, more private drinking establishment that was kind enough to provide us with a large bottle of rum and a small supply of coca-cola. It is not difficult to imagine that the night got messy from that point onwards and while this correspondent will stop short of violating the universal maxim ‘what happens on tour stays on tour’, I will point out that singlets were seldom worn, the dancing was seldom good, and two tourists were nearly arrested by a troupe of ‘police’ for jumping onto the roof of a pink Hummer that surely belonged to a high-ranking member of the local military, or perhaps the daughter of the head of the country’s mafia.
DELIVERING A MESSAGE
As so often happens to supporters of our great game, the morning-self suffered the pain and indignity that rightfully belonged to the self-of-last-night and it was clear in the eyes of those at breakfast the next morning that we were each victims of the infamous proverb, ‘it seemed like a good idea at the time’. After a stiff breakfast consisting of bacon, baked beans and eggs, we hopped onto a bus headed for Northbridge Community Field thankful that our first game was scheduled to kick off at a generous 11am.
As for the starting side, it was decided that Patricio, Belly and the giant Laurent would form our front row, with Bang and Darrel slotting into the second row. Yes, Darrel in the starting side. Things were pretty grim. Skinny and Hooey would combine at 9 and 10 respectively, formulating a halves partnership that our opposition struggled to grapple with throughout the tournament. After a strong 15s season Soddy was the obvious choice at inside-centre (second five for those kiwis out there), while Rich and myself were placed on the fringes to function as sweeping wingers. Siam and Mikey provided both firepower and versatility on the bench, with their larger statures allowing them to fit into either the forward pack or the backline if circumstances demanded it. The decision to start Mikey on the bench seemed especially pertinent as it would be much easier to hide his haircut on the sideline.
We were pitted against PSE Garudas, a local Cambodian team outfitted in bright orange jerseys that looked much more youthful and exuberant than ourselves. The message from the skipper in the moments before kick-off was clear; although we obviously wanted a W on the score sheet, it was important to utilise the first game to wash away any hangovers from the night before and to encourage a bit of cohesion amongst the players. After all, some of us were playing in unfamiliar positions and some of us, namely Darrel, were simply playing. With the blow of a whistle Hooey sent the ball sailing into the air off the kick off, thus beginning our Cambodian 10s campaign.
Although PSE were physically much smaller, the feisty Cambodians more than compensated for their smaller statures with some zippy pace and biting on-field aggression. Indeed, after a somewhat scrappy start that saw the ball change hands a number of times, we found ourselves defending deep into our own half. A penalty was taken quickly against the green and gold Southerners (canary yellow indeed), they scored and all of a sudden we were seven points behind.
The team remained positive despite the blow and hit back at the hosts with some solid play after the restart. We eventually ground down their aggressive defence to level the scores at half time. The Cambodians did not make things easy for themselves by copping not one, but two yellow cards for persistent breakdown infringements. After a tough 15s season of refereeing back in Bangkok, it was a relief to have the balance of the whistle.
Darrel’s cameo appearance in the starting line up sadly came to an end when the Welshman subbed himself off along with Patricio during the break, freeing up Siam and Mikey to get involved in the second half. The injection of fresh legs and numerical advantage over our opponents brought a flood of tries. Time and time again Hooey’s bullet passes were perfectly executed to put the backline into space, while the forward pack continued to dominate both the scrums and the breakdowns.
Rich, in particular, had a blinder; with a running style that can only be compared to a rooster on fire, he devastated the Cambodians with a flurry of tries.
Hooey seemed to cop a fair share of abuse from the feisty Cambodians, with his opposite number, a 5 foot man of 55 kg, repeatedly putting on late hits despite Hooey’s protestations. In order to avoid another Cambodian-Thai international incident, the referee blew full time with us winning by a squillion.
Skinny then used the break to indulge in one of the many massages of Lianne’s massages, an offense he would be severely punished for at Kangaroo court later that night.
Our second game saw us up against INSEAD, a business university in Singapore, supported by the very same groupies Patricio had been fraternising with the night before. When a number of the students entered the field wearing bandanas and head scarfs it became obvious that we were hardly facing seasoned veterans. Indeed, after chatting to some of the students post-game, this reporter discovered that only three players from the Singaporean side had actually played rugby. Nonetheless, the game did produce some fascinating and memorable moments of play worth mentioning.
The message before the game was to focus on playing error-free rugby and to minimise some of the 50/50 plays that had riddled the first quarter of our opening match; each man knew his job now and we were to trust that our fellow Southerner knew his.
Ironically, only minutes after the captain dispensed with these orders Mikey dropped the ball of the kick off. The South African did make up for his blunder later in the match by smoothly recovering a ball that somehow found itself trickling close to our try line. Under pressure, Mikey scooped the ball up and set off on an 80 metre dash straight through the feeble defensive line of green jerseys before offloading the ball to Soddy, who scored under the posts.
Tries came in waves for the Southerners for most of the game, especially from Rich, with the men putting on far too many points to catalogue. No tries were scored against us.
Skinny and Hooey combined again to produce a destructive partnership, with Hooey involving himself in the vast majority of backline tries. Thanks to some giant hits from the pack, with special reference to a monster tackle put on by Belly in the middle of the park that seemed to bend his opponent in three, the Southerners dominated the collisions and outmuscled the inexperienced student outfit. Functioning in his role as pseudo-flanker, Bang had a field day at the breakdown and seemed to pilfer as many balls as Rich scored tries.
Mikey was forced from the field, after colliding head-to-head with another South African fellow like a couple of stags contesting a mating partner. Both men came off the field almost immediately with Mikey complaining about a ‘sore’ neck and the student claiming a dislocated shoulder. The consensus amongst us highly-qualified men afterwards was that neither injury was particularly serious and that surely both South Africans could have been adequately treated with a bag of cement and just simply hardened up.
For the remainder of the tournament the university team was left with just two experienced players and the Southerners with a squad of only 10 men (plus Darrel and Lianne). After the final whistle blew the score was resounding; another W for the Southerners with us winning again by a squillion.
In the extended break before the semi-final, Skinny made himself available for yet another massage from Hooey’s missus, whilst Mikey spent the time pressing ice packs against his neck to attract sympathy for his tournament-ending injury of pussyitis.
We had drawn the Sisowath Knights, an expat rugby team from Phenom Penh, and after watching the Knights play in previous matches it was clear the match was going to be anything but easy.
The message before the match was simple; same-same-but-better.
From the opening minutes of the match it was obvious we were finally beginning to hit our potential. The set pieces were executed with precision. Despite being built like a keg, Bang’s form as lineout jumper was flawless. In the scrums, Laurent showed the anger of a French Labourer. Our halves precise, and Hooey played himself into contention for player of the tournament.
Physically the Knights were a large team and they certainly did not lay down for us. Equally hard at running the ball as they were at tackling, the local expat side strung together some good rugby and succeeded in effectively moving the ball out wide in attack. Every Southerner stepped up in defence, enabling us to keep the Knights scoreless at halftime.
Darrel’s said at the break we had been playing some of the best rugby he had seen from the squad all year. Naturally he would not dare disrupt the team’s cohesion now by subbing himself into the second half.
We pressed on playing the same tight, structured style of rugby. Down on the scoreboard and facing the strong possibility that their tournament was coming to a close, the Knights began to exhibit signs of frustration in their game, particularly at scrum time when up against the gorilla-sized Laurent.
The final nail in the Knights’ coffin came in spectacular fashion when Hooey produced a perfectly weighted cross-field kick, so beautiful to watch it would have brought Andrew Johns out of his seat. Rich collected the kick cleanly on the far side of the field despite looking into the sun, and crossed the line to score (again). The crowds on the sideline roared in appreciation of the impossibly executed move. The Southerners finished the game strongly and once again managed to keep a clean score sheet. 19-0.
And so, the team managed to fight its way into the finals and secure a game for the tournament trophy against the giants of south-east Asian rugby, the Rhinos. Stacked full of star players from Hong Kong, huge in size and skilful, the Rhinos played some impressive rugby on their way to the final. However there was clearly a chink in the Rhino armour:, the Southerners traitor Matt ‘Benedict Arnold’ Munn.
There was an eerie mood of anticipation among the men as we warmed up one last time. The cool breeze had abated and afternoon sun shone uncontested from above. The atmosphere in the crowd was tense, keen to witness the showdown between the tournament’s two most successful sides. In our pre-match chat it was made clear that under no circumstances was the team to allow Munn to score.
Although we got off to a relatively good start, with some probing runs in the opening minutes, the formidable Rhino outfit did not allow us to play the kind of clinical rugby we had pieced together in our previous games. Their defence was brutal and the much bigger Rhino team won the collisions with some great tackles, and they pressed hard in the set piece and at the breakdown.
With the crowd behind us the men defended gallantly, none more so than Rich who successfully chased down a Benedict try with a spectacular tackle down the wing – after spotting a gap on the fringe it looked for all money as if Munn was going to further disgrace his name by scoring against his own club, only to have Rich pull him down prematurely and dislodge the ball from his grasp in the process.
The Rhinos eventually broke our line and scored through an overlap out wide and went into the break 14 points up.
With the Rhinos boasting a full contingent of 17 players to our 10 (plus Darrel and Lianne) they were able to bring on an almost completely new team during the second half.
Regardless, things did fare a little better for us after the restart and we were able to secure good territory and get the ball in hand. Our attack showed signs of spark as Hooey succeeded putting Soddy and Rich into space on a number of occasions.
In defence the team was once again put to the test with wave after wave of Rhino charges, Siam in particular standing out in midfield with some big hits. Even your faithful reporter was able to pull off a try saving tackle when our opponents took the ball down the blind side from a scrum, taking the man across the touchline before he was able to score.
By the last few moments of the match, we were still scoreless and keen to get a try. At one point we miraculously found ourselves on the Rhino’s 22 metre line when Skinny, for reasons that no one rightly understands, decided to bomb the ball high into the air. You could almost hear Skinny’s brain exploding, and everyone on the field seemed to freeze while the ball sailed slowly back down to earth for a gain of about 3m. Everyone except Siam. Showing off his AFL skills, the young Melbournite leapt high into the air and recovered the ball beautifully amongst a cluster of Rhino defenders. For all of Siam’s good work we still could not find a way past their defence and finished the game 26-0 down to the Rhinos, deserved winners.
Ron Rutland, former Southerner and captain of the Rhinos put it well in a comment in the Phnom Penh Post: “It wasn’t easy. It was a lot tougher than the scoreline suggests.”
And so ended our tournament. We went back to the hotel briefly before joining the tournament’s awards ceremony, where we would pick up our second-place trophy (now decorated with a large dent that looks suspiciously as though it came from a head butt).
Kangaroo court proceeded, men fined for various and untold discretions, then it was all beer and midgets from that point onwards.