Due to a clash of dates with His Majaesty the King’s coronation, the 19th staging of the Chris Kays Memorial Rugby Tournament, held at Horseshoe Point in Pattaya from May 4-5, was to be contested by only 12 teams with a very strong local bias.
The entries were led by the reigning champions Southerners Black who were determined to retain their title and had brought a very strong squad and a second team Southerners Gold. The resurgent Bangkok Bangers were expected to make a strong challenge as were the Sam Yan Rangers, a team composed mainly of students and alumnae of Chulalongkorn University. Those great tourists the French Asian Barbarians (FABS) were bound to bring plenty of colour and Gallic flair along with copious quantities of cheese, pastis and wine.
Foreign teams had mostly declined to enter but the Komodo Dragons were expected to give a good showing as they are one of the top teams in Indonesia. Perennial crowd favourites the Bangkok Japanese were expected to make a stronger showing as they would have more of their players available and the team has gone from strength to strength in recent years.
A new addition to the rugby playing community, the Banglamung Brumbies, are principally from the rugby league ranks but most of their players have come from a union background. The roster was rounded out by the hosts the Pattaya Panthers, who had been training hard under the watchful eyes of coach “ Animal “ and in the squeeze had entered two teams, Panthers Pink and Panthers Brown to balance numbers. All was set for another great tournament.
In the shortened format the teams were divided into 2 pools of 6 teams. Saturday’s games were played in a round-robin format to determine the ranking for the various knockout tournaments to be played on Sunday. This format meant that every team would need to play 5 games in the pool rounds, which would stretch team’s resources, whilst giving all participants more playing time. Despite the heat and the pressure of playing more games the quality of the rugby was of the highest level throughout and was a credit to all who played their part.
Sunday morning saw many players trying hard to shake off the effects of a night on the town and focus on qualification for the afternoon finals. There were some casualties as the Komodo Dragons had apparently been kidnapped by some ardent Thai ecologists and could not be found so they were eventually scratched from the tournament.
The quest for Cup, Plate, Bowl and Shield got under way and many first time losers were surprised to find that they then had to play more games than if they had won as the trickle-down system came into play. This revised format saw the top two teams from each of Saturday’s pool games proceed directly to the Cup and Plate semi finals.
There were some superb performances and some very close encounters in the knockout rounds with not a few surprises. The Cup semi finals saw some very good and hard games and as expected the Southerners Black eased past the Old Bangkok Bangers, but not without a fight, youth and fitness finally triumphing over age and experience by just a single score! The second semi final saw the first upset as the highly rated Sam Yan Rangers team was given a lesson in fast open rugby by the Gallic masters of the FABS.
The Mike Cobb Bowl semi finals were to be contested by Royal Thai Army Tigers v Southerners Gold and Panthers Brown v Banglamung Brumbies, who had so far acquitted themselves very well. After the Komodo Dragons and the Maltese Falcons had earlier defaulted, the Bangkok Japanese and Pink Panthers would contest the Shield final.
The climax to the weekend of exciting rugby saw no quarter asked for or given and all trophy winners deserved their reward. In the Shield, those old friends and adversaries Bangkok Japanese and the Pink hosts fought a really tough match, with the Bangkok Japanese taking the spoils in a very exciting game 19-12. The Bowl final was no less exciting as the Royal Thai Army Tigers defended doggedly against the Brown Panthers and the superior fitness of the young soldiers made the difference as they squeezed over the line with a last second try to win by a conversion.
After the excitement of the minor finals could the big stars deliver? We were not to be disappointed as the Plate final was exceptionally hard fought between the youth and fitness of the Sam Yan Rangers and the age, experience and weight of the Old Bangkok Bangers. The Ranger’s youngsters played a fast running game and attacked relentlessly against the steely Bangers, who defended as if their lives depended on it. The brave Bangers finally ran out of steam and gave up the winning score to the youngsters, losing 14-7 in a match that was a delight to watch.
And so to the conclusion of the weekend as the reigning champions Southerners Black took on the pastis fueled FABS. It was a very interesting game of contrasting styles but the Southerners were not going to give up the Cup easily and their more orthodox approach paid off in the end as they retained the Cup for another year, running out comfortable winners 26-0.
A vote of thanks is due to all the organizers, supporters and sponsors without whom a tournament like this could not happen. Major plaudits go to Horseshoe Point for the provision of the magnificent facilities and The London Pie Shop and the Sportsman Group for good food and cold drinks throughout the weekend. Other major sponsors were Regents International School Pattaya, WHA Hemaraj Land and Development, Liam of Pandora Resort on Koh Samet, Manpower, Phoenix Pacific Inc., The Baron Devereux, Societe Generale de Surveillance (SGS), MAS Ausgroup, Garden International School, Steeden Asia and Victor Sporting Tapes.
Also a heavy vote of thanks media partners Pattaya Mail, Contract Resources Asia (CR), who provided all of the shade, Drinking 4U for all the drinking water and ice, and the Sawang Boriboon Foundation for the standby ambulance and first aid and medical team.
Trevor Sharpe the referees supremo kept everybody under control (even the referees) and thanks also go to tournament director David “ Animal “ Slater, Jon Prichard, author and co-announcer, and Ron Keeley, our IT wizard who again produced another superb programme.
A final thank you goes to everybody who attended and supported the tournament this year and made it a great event. We hope to see you all again next year!