Panthers on the prowl at Oakwood International Rugby 10’s

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It was forecast to be an ideal weekend for rugby and the group of youngsters that gathered in the Tenderloins (clubhouse of the Bangers) on the Friday evening for the pre tournament reception for all the teams could have been forgiven if they were somewhat overawed, as some of the visitors seemed to have endless numbers of players and they all seemed huge.  In addition there was a smattering of ex–internationals among the members of the New Zealand Legends and the South African Jam Boys.

Led by the intrepid Adrien, the newly appointed Pattaya Panthers captain and a Frenchman to boot, everybody acquitted themselves well at the festivities and all retired early to be fit for the big games to come the next day.

The Pattaya Panthers in action at the Oakwood International Rugby 10’s tournament in Bangkok. The Pattaya Panthers in action at the Oakwood International Rugby 10’s tournament in Bangkok.

Everybody was early at the Patana School grounds, where the youth games had been running since 08:00 am.  The superb facilities around the ground provided a wonderful setting to enthrall the expected hordes, good weather was forecast and everything was ready for the seventh edition of the Bangkok International 10’s Rugby Tournament.

The tournament took place over the weekend of 18th and 19th February and despite the recent flooding disasters and the subsequent disruption and economic problems, which had caused a number of the foreign teams to withdraw, 24 rugby teams from Thailand and other parts of the world had turned up to contest what is now one of the principal 10 a side tournaments in the region.

The Panthers had been drawn in a group containing The Nak Suu Warriors, The Sabah Warriors and the Gakushi Juniors from Japan.  Resplendent in their smart new strip featuring new sponsors Icebreaker and Rhenus Logistics along with long time supporters MBMG, the boys warmed up for their first taste of combat under the eagle eye of coach Des “El Pato” Halls.  Strengthened by the even younger brigade that been playing in the junior section, strategy was planned and moves were formulated.

Then the long wait was over, the selection made and the Panthers were to kick off against the Nak Suu Warriors.  The children of the Nak Suu Academy are the main beneficiaries of the proceeds from this tournament and their director Sopo Fakaua had gathered a team drawn from the volunteers who help with the coaching at the academy, there were a couple of Thai Internationals and other class players in the group.

The Panthers started well and although they were a relatively young and inexperienced team they held the Nak Suu boys to just one score at half time.  However the second half was a one way affair and although the Panthers defended doggedly they finally caved in and were beaten by the fitness and experience of the Nak Suu Warriors who prevailed 26-0.

After a haranguing from the coach and a little more sleep for some of the boys who had broken curfew, the situation improved markedly in the second group game where the Panthers came up against the Sabah Warriors, who were arguably one of the most entertaining sides in the tournament but they could also play a bit.

It was a very tight contest and both teams defended as if their lives depended on it.  For the Panthers Tong and Bryan De Leon were outstanding, tackling everything that was thrown at them and the team was well led by Capitaine Adrien, however all of the possession could not be converted into a score and Sabah somehow managed to break the deadlock with a late run away try and ran out winners 7-0.

The Panthers now had their tails up and in the final group match were up against the Gakushi Juniors, who had a squad of about 30 players!  Panthers were out of the blocks at a fast and furious pace and were rewarded with an early score by Le Capitaine, who converted his own try.

The novelty of being in front was something that the Panthers had not savoured before and they eased up a little, which allowed Gakushi back into the game.  By half time the scores were even and some of the Panthers were tiring and carrying some injuries.  They fought a brave rearguard action but in the end the superior numbers of the Gakushi boys told and they scored 2 more tries in the second half to run out 19-7 winners.

The first day’s results meant that the Panthers would start on Sunday against their old foes the Bangkok Japanese.  After a hard day’s play a strong start was made on some of the mighty hangovers to be seen the following morning with an excellent curry and lashings of Tiger beer served by attractive tiger ladies, who seemed able to persuade even teetotalers to purchase just one more jug!

The Coach had urged everybody to have a quiet Saturday night and to drink plenty of cocoa before sleeping, however it seems that the night‘s partying had definitely taken its toll and as the Panthers arrived at the ground, the Coach and Le Capitaine counted the wounded and the hung over.  The medics at the Bangkok Nursing Home medical tent worked overtime strapping bruised limbs and joints and the team were ready for action.

After the youngsters had shown their paces with some very fast and exciting rugby it was on to the main tournament and many first time losers were surprised to find that they then had to play more games than if they had won as a trickle down was enforced.

The Panthers lined up against their old foes The Bangkok Japanese in the quarter-finals of the Jug and as usual the Japanese played a high tempo game and threatened to swamp the weary Panthers early on.  Then against the run of play the Panthers took first blood and scored a try through Tong, who was very unlucky not to score again immediately afterwards but the referee called the play back for  knock on.

The Japanese responded with wave after wave of attacks and eventually broke the Panthers gallant defence to even the scores by the half.  As the game progressed the Panthers visibly tired and missed some tackles giving the Japanese 2 more scores with the match finishing 19-7 in the Japanese favour, which according to some observers was the first time that they had triumphed over the Panthers!

Under the trickle down system the Panthers dropped down into the semi-finals of the Tankard where they would play the Insead Team from Singapore.  The Panthers managed to patch themselves up for this game and played a very controlled match scoring 3 tries without reply – their first win of the tournament and suddenly they were in line to pick up some silverware.

With their hopes high, as they would be facing an aging Bangkok Bangers side in the final of the Tankard, the Panthers prepared for one final push.  Unfortunately the silky skills on view against Insead were not in evidence against a big bruising Bangers side that were long on experience and bulk, which eventually proved to be the deciding factor.  The Bangers scored 3 unanswered tries and were worthy winners of the Tankard 19-0.

The Panthers had played their hearts out and now know a lot more about tournament rugby, our youngsters showed that they have some great talent and with this experience behind them should become a force to be reckoned with in future tournaments around the region.

A highlight of the weekend was a demonstration of how rugby used to be played by the Ancients a group of rugby enthusiasts who are out to prove that there is life after 50!  Led by “Foxy” and Kevin Hulton–Smith, the old boys thrilled the crowd with some delightful waddles and plenty of dropped ball!  An almost sedentary paced game ended in a draw and both sides consumed the bottle of Port that was on offer for the winners.

Our thanks are due to our major sponsors for this tournament Icebreaker, Rhenus Logistics and MBMG, without whom our participation would not have been possible.  The boys that trained so hard to get into some sort of shape and “El Pato”, who supervised all of the training.

We can honestly say that the Panthers left with their tails held high as all members were issued with long Pink Panther tails to wear with a hefty fine for failure to be wearing your tail!  Our grateful thanks also to Eddie Evans and his organizing crew and to Oakwood for their overall sponsorship of the event.