By | Thu 8 Sep 2022

The organisation that is a premier rugby touring institution, the Rhinos RFC, arrived in Chiang Mai over the weekend of 2-4 September for their annual rugby tour.

Established in 1985 by a group of likeminded expatriate Rugby players, the Rhinos RFC is Asia’s premier touring Rugby Club. The concept of the club has changed little over the years which is primarily to provide an avenue for like-minded rugby players to tour annually and be able to stay connected, regardless of where in the world new postings may find them. Membership to the club is by invitation only and is restricted to players who are playing, or have played rugby for an Asian Rugby club.

This was the first time, since the lockdowns began, that they have put a tour together. With many of their stalwarts unable to tour due to various restrictions in some countries, it was a much-depleted squad. With a team consisting of players from all the major rugby nations, it was still a formidable side and a daunting prospect, for the host team, Chiang Mai Cobras, in the upcoming tri series 10’s as well as the Lanna Rugby Club.

The welcome party was held at www.facebook.com/TheScoreChiangMai with excellent food, old friendships being rekindled, new ones established, beers being drunk and stories being told, it was a great way to start the weekends rugby festival.

Chiang Mai University was the venue with the Hosts Chiang Mai Cobras, taking on the Rhinos in the first game. The weather was hot and humid as the Cobras received from the kick off and they were immediately put under pressure from the experienced Rhinos pack. With the Cobras starting with their young players, the bigger Rhinos started to dominate in the loose and at the breakdown, and created a couple of wonderful tries to go into an early 10-0 lead. The Cobras fought hard and came close to scoring but resolute defense by the Rhinos quickly turned into attack, running in a further 2 tries for a 22-0 half time lead.

The Cobras brought on their more experienced players for the 2nd half. Being able to compete at the breakdown started to pay dividends and with the possession, started to attack the Rhinos line. Even though the Rhinos were feeling the heat they managed to hold out the Cobras until the last play of the game when Cobras chairman Dave McRitchie burrowed over for a score converted by Richie Davies. Final score 22-7.

Between games the Prince Royal’s College showcased their talent by having U19’s 7’s games to entertain the players and crowd during the break.

The second game was between Cobras and old adversaries the Lanna Rugby Club. The Cobras bolstered by the return of Charlie Jones were up for the challenge and with a Chiang Rai reinforced Lanna side, the scene was set for another epic encounter. With Lanna missing their bigger forwards, Cobras began to dominate and with the fast Thai lads outside getting quick ball, Lanna were on the defensive. First half tries by N “Parn”Kumporn and C “Boss” Jantarajumnong saw Cobras lead 14-0 at the break.

A further 3 tries by Kon Papadopoulos, Josh Lim and Pai gave the Cobras a commanding lead. A consolation try towards the end by Phil for Lanna showed their fighting qualities and a score of 31-7 for the Cobras.

The final game of the day was Rhinos v Lanna. The Rhinos refreshed from their break came out with all guns blazing. Lanna were on the back foot from the start and any threat from the possession they had was snuffed out at source by some tenacious tackling. Such was the talent of the support play by the Rhinos that it was almost impossible to stop. Rhinos jumped out to a 19-0 half time lead before turning on the afterburners in the second half and romping away before the Lanna lads got a well worked try at the end. The 39-5 score was irrelevant at the end as rugby and all it stands for, was the winner. An added bonus was the ladies Northern 7s qualifiers held on the adjacent pitch which was won by Nan Rugby who progress to the National 7’s championships in October.

Cobras captain Matty Valentine had this to say after the games “It was an amazing weekend of Rugby. It was an absolute pleasure to host the Rhino’s squad. In the field we were taught a few lessons against them in the first half but managed to get some parity in the second. Looking forward to catching up with these new rugby ‘mates’ around Asia soon.”

The after-match party was held at the UN Irish pub with speeches and gifts exchanged. Rhinos President Gilles Russell, said he was impressed by the local Thai talent he saw out on the pitch and thanked the Cobras for hosting and putting together a tour to remember. He also thanked the Rhinos membership for continuing to support the Gurkha Welfare Trust since 1985 and that the Rhinos look forward to getting their full contingent back for the 2023 tour.

The Rhinos chief organiser of the tour, Vince Swift, did a wonderful job getting the tour together and creating another memorable chapter in the Rhinos’ long history. Vince deserves all the accolades being heaped upon him.

Chiang Mai Cobras chairman Dave McRitchie said “Hosting the Rhinos RFC was another first for our club as well as hosting a mini-tournament. To say it exceeded my expectations would be a massive understatement. It started with the welcome party and continued throughout the weekend. Not only were the Rhinos talented rugby players but they were also men familiar with expat life and the associated challenges. The rugby was brilliant but the generosity and genuine camaraderie that the weekend provided were truly memorable. We sincerely hope that we can continue to support the Rhinos in the future and wish them continued success in their rugby journeys and safe travels to their home.”

Lanna coach Matt James had this to say “It was a great weekend where rugby was, as it always is, the winner! It was great to have a mixture of guys playing together and enjoying the game that we all love.”

The weekend was a complete success with Chiang Mai rugby showcased across all levels from juniors, through ladies and men’s seniors to the local and expat rugby scenes.

The venue provided by Chiang Mai University was first class and it was great to see the up and coming local talent that is coming through the Prince Royal’s Colleges’ rugby program.

It was a pleasure for the Chiang Mai Cobras hosting such a prestigious and well-known touring team and would like to thank the Rhinos RFC for touring and Lanna Rugby Club for joining the party.

Chiang Mai Cobras will continue to engage with teams across the region and push Chiang Mai as a rugby touring & rugby educational hub.