It was an early Saturday morning for the Pattaya Panthers last weekend (Nov. 17), kicking off their first of two pool matches of the RBSC International Rugby 10s tournament at 12:30pm. The midday sun was beating down directly from above as the sea of pink slowly emerged from the shadows of the team tents.
With the majority of the Panthers coming to this one-day event having slept in their own beds the night before (and with well over the normal pre-tournament 3 hours of shut-eye), there was a sense of unfamiliarity in the air when the warm-up consisted of all members being able to run in straight lines. Given the beautiful backdrop of the centrally located pitch at the Royal Bangkok Sports Club, one could have easily have mistaken the occasion as being a picnic in the park. This day however would prove the mighty Panthers’ resilience to be showcased when called upon.
The first match against KC Rugby Club (Kings College) started off with a brilliant passage of play; a line break from Spike Strang and eventual offload to AD saw the latter score the first try of the day for the Panthers within the first minute of the game. However, following an unfortunate yellow card shortly thereafter awarded to Marcus Large, the Panthers were on the back foot for the remainder of the half and had to thank some try-saving tackles made by AD and Franco Vorster to keep the quick-footed KC club scoreless at the break.
Opening the second half with the Panthers 7-0 to the good, the wet conditions saw more than a handful of knock-ons before KC eventually responded with a try of their own in the corner when a prop versus wing mismatch was exploited. The Panthers however capitalized at the breakdown with turnovers that pushed the KC defence backwards to the front of their own try line. At this point it was only a matter of time until Spike set up another phase, this time passing to Chris Miles for an inside line that led to a final try towards the end of the match, the Panthers taking it 14-5.
Three hours later, an expat team from China, the Shanghai Dolphins kicked off to a semi-rested Panthers side. A strong run from kickoff saw Marcus return the ball 25m and additionally get a penalty in pink favor. Unfortunately, the wet conditions saw a series of phases on the back foot that slowly dragged the play back to the front of the Pattaya try line.
With some intimidating kit colors and strong defence, the Panthers backline held firm and then beautifully pierced through the outside Dolphins defence as Tom Edwards made a 50m break, offloaded to Chris Miles for another 15m, then back to Tom and AD before a penalty was incurred by the Dolphins on the 5m line. They however wiggled out of this pinch from another knock-on, to which the remainder of the top half was battled back-and-forth due to the slippery ball.
The Dolphins came on strong immediately in the second half, with their Fijian, is-he-a-lock-or-a-wing-oh-wait-he’s-both, powering through the Panther defence on the outside to open the scoring. The stars lined up for the Panthers however when a turnover on the 10m line led to some brilliant open play and saw Chris Miles and AD draw the last outside Dolphin defenders before an offload to Joe Edama had him score the equalizing try between the uprights. The TMO replay revealed that although heart-stopping, Joe’s basketball-slam-dunk touchdown was legitimate.
The Panthers then had one last phase in defence to which the aforementioned wing/lock hybrid was sure to score, but thankfully the direct line off the pitch that Phil Howard was running with a full head of steam just so happened to intercept the attack and spoil the try. The game ended in a well-contested 7-7 tie but due to total point differential, the Dolphins secured the top seed from the pool so the Panthers had to settle for a place in the Plate semi-final.
With the sun slowly setting across the Bangkok skyline the men in pink received an elimination-round kickoff from another large expat team, the CQ Dingoes from Australia. From the outset, the tone was set as each phase into contact was met with hard collisions. Five minutes in, one of the Dingoes managed to slip through two Panther defenders to score the opening try. Further knock-ons, coupled with another high-tackle yellow card incurred by an unmentionable large individual, saw the Panthers conceded two more tries and they were down 17-0 at the half.
Retrieving their own kick in the second half, the pink wave flooded the pitch with Marcus eventually hammering in a try next to the posts. With five minutes left on the clock the Panthers were still insatiable for a taste of the white-powdered line. Marcus plowed through the Aussie defence again with a stretch over the try line but the score was disallowed after TMO review. The Dingoes then slowly killed the remaining minutes on the clock and progressed to the final with a score of 15-7.
The Panthers retired from the field of battle with a tally of 1-1-1 on the day. Despite the semi-final disappointment it was an excellent day of action packed rugby as summarized by stand-in captain Chris Miles: “The lads played their hearts out and laid it out on the line. I couldn’t be happier. Now let’s go get drunk.” And that’s what the team did, in truest Pattaya Panther fashion.