There was an air of expectancy among the players arriving for the seventeenth staging of the Chris Kays Memorial 10’s Rugby Tournament at Horseshoe Point from April 29-30. Teams came from all over Thailand and other parts of the world to take part in one of the principal 10 a-side rugby tournaments in the region.
The tournament was to be contested by 16 teams and for the first time the welcome mat was laid out to one of the best known teams in Thailand from Vajirawudh College (O.V.’s), always a name to be reckoned with when rugby is contested at school level and over the years they have provided many players for the Thai national team. Complete unknown quantities meanwhile came in the shape of the young i Animals squad, comprised mainly of graduates from Thonburi University, and Sam Yan Rangers, a newly formed club from students from Chulalongkorn University.
The roster was of course graced as always by the host team Pattaya Panthers, who had been training hard under the watchful eyes of coach “ Stout “, who was now working in Australia but had returned especially for the tournament.
Saturday dawned hot and overcast with a hint of expected rain but the field was in perfect condition for running rugby. The organizing cabal under Chairman Jim Howard had, despite a number of late scares managed to shuffle the pack and with the able assistance of the referees’ supremo Dave Viccars everything ran smoothly.
The teams were divided into 4 groups and Saturday’s games were played in a round-robin format to determine the ranking for the various knockout tournaments to be played on Sunday. In the dry conditions hard and fast running rugby was the order of the day and most games went to form. As expected there was a short period of showery rain in the afternoon, which did cool things down and made the ball very slippery.
The quality of the rugby was of the highest level throughout and was a credit to all who played their part. There were strong performances from all of the teams and many of the games were very close, with 2 drawn games in the preliminary rounds being awarded to the team which had scored first. There were one or two surprises and some of the teams found themselves in unfamiliar territory.
The Royal Thai Police showed that they really meant business as they won all 3 of their pool games and easily qualified from pool A. The biggest surprise of these early exchanges was the young boys from Surin, the Elephants Brutal, who easily topped pool D and beat former champions Southerners Gold on their way to Cup qualification.
The two new teams, Sam Yan Rangers and O.V’s., performed well and both qualified for the Cup quarter-finals to be joined by the Royal Thai Police, Southerners Black, Southerners Gold, Bangkok Bangers, who were in a rarified atmosphere, and RPL Military Vikings, who proved that age and size were no impediment to winning!
The host Panthers, Bangkok Japanese and two Hong Kong sides (HK Scottish and Valley Griffins) dropped down to the Plate, whilst Arch Thai, Bangkok University, i Animals and La Vache Rouge dropped to the lower division, with the bonus of a late start on Sunday.
Both Valley Griffins and La Vache Rouge had put up a plucky display but unfortunately the weather conditions and the standard of the opposition were just too much for them and they withdrew from the tournament overnight quoting PST, PMT or hangover.
After a hard day’s play ended, cooling off in the pool was obligatory and a strong start was made on some of the mighty hangovers to be seen the following morning.
Sunday dawned hot and overcast but by kick-off the sun was well and truly up with the promise of a real cauldron by the middle of the day. The Cup quarter-finals saw some very good and hard games, two games ended all square and the winner was decided by virtue of being the first to score and eventually the Royal Thai Police, Sam Yan Rangers, Bangkok Bangers and Elephant Brutal all progressed to the semifinals with both Southerners sides being defeated. The first time losers then dropped into the quarter-finals of the Plate led by the Panthers and Southerners Black and Gold.
HK Scottish finally accounted for the younger O.V’s. team and were hoping to claim the Plate with now only the host Panthers blocking their path. RPL Military Vikings received a walkover from the Valley Griffins, who were reported to be lost somewhere in Pattaya’s new “comfort zone” while the Panthers kept their hopes of silverware alive with a convincing 19-0 victory over the Southerners Gold. Bangkok Japanese would face Southerners Black and go down to a heavy defeat thus dropping into the Bowl competition.
Both semi-finals of the Cup were hotly contested and the Royal Thai Police showed just what a potent force they are in Thai rugby as they coasted to a relatively easy 14-0 victory against new boys Sam Yan Rangers. In the second semi-final the Elephants finally ran out of steam and were soundly beaten 21-0 by the guile and experience, not to mention age and weight of a Bangkok Bangers team playing thinking rugby. So the stage was set for a classic final between the youth and fitness of the Royal Thai Police and the age, experience and weight of the Bangers.
The Shield competition saw former champions Southerners Gold up against another completely new team, i Animals, and it turned out to be a relatively easy victory for the Southerners but the plucky Animals fought hard and did manage a score before finally going down 19-5.
The final of the Mike Cobb Bowl competition started with a minutes silence in remembrance of Mike Cobb, who was sadly killed after last year’s tournament and in whose memory the Bowl competition has been named. This was a very exciting game and the Bangkok U fans were screaming their team on. The final score of 14-12 meant that only one conversion separated the teams and the Bangkok Japanese were bridesmaids once again. However, it was very fitting that a student team should win as Mike Cobb was dedicated to coaching younger players and it seems that he may have had a hand in the destination of his Bowl from up above!
The Plate semi-final had seen the hosts squeak through by virtue of being the first to score against the RPL Military Vikings, thus setting up a clash with Southerners Black. Having beaten Southerners Gold in the quarter-final round the Panthers were quietly optimistic of taking home (or keeping in Pattaya) a trophy. However, that was not to be as they were undone by the all-round excellence and fitness of the Southerners. The Panthers got off to a bright start with a runaway try and conversion and play then flowed from end to end but the balance of power was with the Southerners as the Panthers faded and leaked 5 tries as they went down 35-7.
So the Cup final was to be the former champions, Royal Thai Police, against the resurgent Bangkok Bangers and the match started at a frantic pace as the Police played some scintillating rugby, whilst the Bangers defended as if their lives depended on it. Eventually the dam broke and the youth and fitness gained the upper hand. The Police put on a magnificent display of hard running rugby and by the end were scoring almost at will as they regained the trophy with a runaway victory 40-0. The Bangers never gave up however and fought valiantly until the final whistle, and were also magnanimous in defeat.
After the final whistle everybody crashed into the pool and the presentations were made to all trophy winners, the highlight being the presentation for the first time of the Mike Cobb Bowl. Jim Howard commended everybody for the great spirit in which the tournament had been played and the outstanding quality of rugby throughout.
A big vote of thanks goes to all the organizers and sponsors without whom a tournament like this could not happen and also a thank-you to the players and supporters who made it such a great sporting event. We hope to see you all again next year!