Chiang Mai University was the venue for the 15 a side game between the Chiang Mai Cobras and the Phuket Vagabonds on a day that saw a feast of rugby in the city, with the Bangkok Bangers taking on the Lanna Rugby Club at 15’s and, the Banger Belles, taking on the Lanna Lionesses, in a ladies encounter.
The Cobras v Vagabonds was an intriguing game of rugby that ebbed and flowed with powerful runs, big hits and some sublime skills in tricky conditions after some heavy rainfall. The large crowd was entertained with a game, the result of which, was in doubt, up until the final whistle.
The vagabonds arrived with a strong squad and from the kick off they put the Cobras under some early pressure pinning them back in their own 22. Resolute defense kept them at bay and, as the Cobras started to get some ball, hard running from Charlie Jones and Josh Lim saw them making inroads and putting the vagabonds on the defensive. Damion May broke down the blindside from a ruck and with the overlap looming, looked at getting wing Augustin Lecoq away, only to see his pass intercepted by Vagabonds centre Zach who raced away and scored. With Paul Rothwell scoring a tricky conversion from the touchline it was 7-0 vagabonds, with the game bubbling nicely.
As the first period was coming to a close Damion May made up for his earlier error when, once again seeing space down the blind, drew the defender and put is a cheeky grubber kick that Augustin Lecoq raced onto and touched down to put the Cobras on the board. With Richie Davis just missing the conversion the game was set up nicely at 7-5.
The second period saw the Cobras beginning to take control with the forwards Opart Nawisit, Dave McRitchie and Simon Dickinson making inroads and putting the Vagabonds on the back foot. Fast line speed by the Vagabonds in defense was hindering the Cobras attempts to get the ball wide, and as the weather worsened, it became a game of attrition, with bullocking runs met with ferocious tackles. With the Cobras exerting more pressure it was only a matter of time and it dully arrived, when Most Padabyod made a half break before getting the ball to prop forward Patompong “Plai” Hompeng, who barged over to give the Cobras the lead. With May slotting the conversion it was 12-7 Cobras and all to pay for. Just before the half time whistle the Vagabonds were penalized for a high tackle in front of the posts and with Thitiphong “Beam”Jarumaneeroj kicking the points the Cobras were leading 15-7.
The Vagabonds are a resilient side and as the second half got under way, they immediately regained possession using their big forwards to good effect. Scrum Half Douglas Bursill rolled back the years sniping at every opportunity and only Some desperate defending on their line by Cobras held them out. Just as it looked like they had repelled the waves of attacks Nic Bruno squeezed over for an unconverted try. 15-12. And Ooh, what a game!
The Vagabonds sensing that this was their opportunity to stamp their authority on the game attacked en masse, but were repelled time and again. The Cobras regained possession from a knock on and Richie Davies put in a clearing kick to the half way which was gathered by Paul Rothwell. Weighing up his options and seeing the Cobras bearing down on him, he unleashed a drop goal that sailed right through the middle to stun, not just the Cobras, but the Vagabonds, the crowd and himself as well.
15 points all going into the final period and all to play for.
The last period was all you could wish for in a game with both sides pushing for the win, the drama and excitement were palpable and had the crowd on their feet. A tiring Vagabonds were coming under the cosh and as it looked like the Cobras, playing under penalty advantage, would launch another attack, the ref called it over and penalized the Cobras. A quick tap and go by Rothwell launched the Vagabonds at the Cobras line with Mark Innes managing to slip the covering tackle to score in the corner. With the conversion sliding wide it was 20-15 Vagabonds going into the last 5 minutes.
Constant pressure from the Cobras as they attempted to get the score to win the game, saw them camped on the Vagabonds line. After repeated scrums, a knock on out wide with the line begging, gave the Vagabonds the opportunity to close out the game. But hang on, there was more drama to come. Scrum Half Bursill put the ball in and it was taken against the head to give the Cobras possession and one last go at the line. No 8 Charlie Jones carried before off loading to Lim who surged for the line only for a try saving tackle dislodging the ball to give the vagabonds a hard-fought victory.
Luc Briand was voted man of the match for the Vagabonds with Josh Lim for the Cobras. Louis Greef earned the nickname “Headhunter” for some borderline tackling that was all forgotten about over some cold beers at the UN Irish pub.
A big thank you to Mai Kiattichai and his team from TRU Northern Rugby for a grand job with the officiating.
What a game, one of the best games for a long time where both teams can be proud, of the way they played and the entertainment and drama they provided. The Vagabonds will go home happy to have won and with many new friends.
A disappointed but happy Cobras Captain Matty Valentine said “It was a great day of rugby and another huge step up for our club. The game had it all and was a great close contest with our boys attacking the line right up to the final whistle. There are some great learnings for us, playing 15’s in the wet, in a nail biter. Huge congratulations to the Phuket Vagabonds team for the win and a fantastic contest.” “More importantly, it was great to host another touring team and build those connections for Cobra’s Rugby.”
Dave Walker, head coach of the Vagabonds said “Thank you to the Cobras for inviting us up, being great hosts and playing a great game of rugby. It was a tense game as momentum swung both ways right up to the last minute. Both teams played some hard and fair rugby and tried to get both sets of backs running. We were pleased to get our first win playing 15s and the effort in training paid off. Thanks to Pat and the Cobras, we look forward to hosting you in Phuket soon”
In the other games a very strong Bangkok Bangers team overwhelmed the Lanna Rugby Club whilst the Bangers Belles took the honours against the Lionesses.
Matty James head coach of Lanna Rugby Club had this to say “It’s great to have travelling teams come to Chiang Mai. As ever, rugby is the winner!”
Lionesses coach Erin Kieley said “Honestly, I’m very proud of how well they did yesterday. We had a debut game back in December against TNSU which was our first ever game. The Belles were as expected stronger, and the more experienced team, but our defense did amazingly well, with only one try being scored against us in the first 15-minute period. Maddie Barry scored her debut try for the lionesses.”
Kieley continued “Very excited about how women’s rugby is growing and hope to get more players in the coming season to continue building & hosting more visiting teams.
Prye Wongsirimana, the captain and player/coach for the Bangers Belles enjoyed the experience and said “It was a good level of rugby for both teams. All of them were competitive tough matches. It was nice to play a team outside of Bangkok since Covid happened. We were hosted very well from the Lanna Rugby Club. Overall, everyone enjoyed the weekend with a lot of virgins on tour. It was a great way to start a relationship between the two clubs and hopefully have more games to come in the future.”
Next up is the World Rugby 15’s Level 2 Coaching Course over the weekend of 5-6 March hosted by the Cobras Rugby Club