ISSN: 1391 - 0531
Sunday December 30, 2007
Vol. 42 - No 31

Thais take Kings Cup but Rugby- 80 on the way up

By Trevine Rodrigo in Phuket Thailand.

Tournament in Phuket. The Thais beat Canberra Pirates 44-21 to win the Kings Cup.

Thailand took out the International Kings Cup Rugby 80 Championship with a convincing 44 points (5 goals 2 penalties and 1 drop goal) to 24 (2 goals 2 tries) win over the Canberra Pirates from Australia at the Sanam Chai ground in Phuket, Thailand recenty.

The Thais fielding a near full strength national squad who had just returned from the Rugby Asiad in Sri Lanka, were made to struggle by the makeshift Aussie combination before pulling away in the second half.

The tournament which was meant to figure several teams from around the world was hampered by the last minute withdrawal of several teams from Asia, Europe and New Zealand leaving the Thais, Australia and the Sri Lanka Army as the main contenders for the beautiful gold plated trophy on offer from the King of Thailand celebrating his 80th birthday on December 5.

Tournament organisers told the Sunday Times in Sri Lanka and Serendib News Australia, that they were extremely disappointed by the poor turn out and singled out Sri Lanka Rugby Union as one of the main offenders who reneged on a verbal agreement to send out a representative squad apart from the Army in exchange for Thailand’s participation at the Asiad in Colombo.

Thai Rugby Union Vice President, Air Vice Marshall Prayut Pubbakkasikor was seething at Sri Lanka’s last minute refusal to reciprocate their help when the Colombo Asiad itself suffered a similar fate with the withdrawal of the big guns from the region for the Asiad. “I spoke with Dilroy Fernando and he told me that Sri Lanka would come to Thailand if the Thais agreed to play in Colombo but they soon changed their minds after the Asiad with no particular reason given to me” an angry Pubbakkasikor told me.

Rugby 80’s episode 3, though clearly hampered, still provided quality running rugby that had a sparse but enthusiastic crowd enthralled by the skills produced by the participating teams.

Until now, the rugby world have been sceptical of the game’s new format but this tournament provided enough enlightenment about the fact that you cannot knock a concept that has the potential to put insignificant rugby nations on the world map.

Backing this theory was French journalist Luc Andre who travelled from the world cup to savour the game’s new format and try and put it in perspective with the world game. Andre who has been a keen follower of the new concept was excited that it gave more countries the opportunity of being associated with the highly fashionable sport and he was in agreement that Asia’s lesser countries can achieve just that if they played on an even weight basis.

Apart from the Thais, Sri Lanka Army looked like the only other team that was capable of lifting the Cup, but they were thwarted by the determined Aussies who snatched an unlikely victory in the dying minutes of their clash and this was later compounded by poor refereeing in their next encounter against Thailand’s under-21 team revving up for the up coming Junior Rugby Asiad in Brunei, which saw them robbed of a possible finals berth.

The Soldiers got their revenge in the play off for third place beating the young Thais 19 (2 goals, 1 try) to 7(1 goal) to win the Bowl.

Sri Lanka Army showed their interest and support for rugby’s new format by announcing that they will be back in two years to play in Thailand. The team was accompanied by Major General Sunil De Silva who was there to appraise the new format and he was accompanied by former Army greats Saliya Udugama and Jayantha “Kalu” Weerasinghe, the latter a top grade referee in Australia. Weerasinghe was invited by the Thai officials to run the line in the finals.

The final between Thailand and Canberra pirates underlined the importance of weight restricted rugby where the bigger boned Aussies instilled their structural advantage early in the game but they were then soundly beaten by the quicker and nippier Thais who punched gaping holes in their defence to post a commendable 44-24 win.

Thailand clearly showed that in this form of the game, superior skills can indeed overcome size and height advantage that the Aussies possessed because they ultimately matched each other pound for pound so tackling an opponent was not as daunting as when they are up against the heavier and ever increasing big men of the world game.

For the gritty Canberra Pirates, Half-Back Joe Aldort, Number 8 Hugh Tanered, Lock John Edgar Mills and dynamic Flanker Ravin Kumar were outstanding throughout the tournament with their fearless play in the rucks and mauls against a more mature and experienced opposition.

Rugby 80 President Dilip Kumar who was at the tournament to support the Thai Rugby Union, was impressed at the effort thrown by the organisers to make the event a success despite the drawbacks caused by the withdrawing teams. Speaking at a lavish dinner hosted by the Thai Rugby Union at the Metropole Hotel in Phuket after the finals Kumar said, “I am proud to be here and watch a well knit team of organisers host this tournament under such trying circumstances. We are aware that the reasons for the disruption was mainly due to the World Cup in France and the Rugby Asiad in Sri Lanka but Rugby 80 is determined to chip away until it’s popularity grows and lesser nations benefit from it by world recognition” he said.

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