By OLIVER SLOW | FRONTIER
YANGON – The Yangon Dragons, independent Myanmar’s first rugby club, will host the Indochine Cup 2018 this weekend, the first time the prestigious event will be held in the country.
This year’s edition of the event, one of the most important on Southeast Asia’s rugby calendar, will be held at the Dragon’s home ground at StarCity, in Thanlyin Township, on May 26. It will see six teams taking part in the contact tournament, three in the touch event, and will also include a training session with the Little Dragons, the club’s charity arm, which introduces the sport to children in monasteries and orphanages.
In the contact event, the Hanoi Dragons will make the journey alongside their Vietnamese counterparts, the Saigon Geckos, while the Phnom Penh Rahus will also travel to Myanmar for the tournament. Three Yangon-based teams will also compete, namely the Dragons, Japanese expatriate side the Shwe Elephants and the Irrawaddy Dolphins, which is made up of players from within the Dragon’s squad.
The touch tournament will include the Dragons, the Insein Stray Dogs and the Dulwich All Stars.
“For nearly five years, the Yangon Dragons and its members have been dedicated to fostering the game of rugby in Myanmar,” said Dragons club president Mr Alex Davidson. “The tireless work of dozens of people, Myanmar and foreigners alike, who love the game has lead to the creation of a strong club, a charity with the aim to grow the game among Myanmar children, and ultimately, culminated in this tournament; the first one in Myanmar’s history. It’s a very special moment for the future of rugby in this country.”
Both the Dragons and Dolphins sides will be made up of a mixture of Myanmar and expatriate players.
Among those turning out for the sides are Ko Khant Nyar and Ko Aung Ba Kyaw, two Myanmar players who have been members of the club for several years and toured abroad with them on several occasions.
“Being part of this club is about getting a new experience. I have learned many new things which have offered me good opportunities,” said Khant Nyar. “For instance, we won a scholarship to play in Bangkok [in February], and that was the first time I stepped outside the country. I also think it’s great for Myanmar that the country will be hosting this tournament for the first time.”
Aung Ba Kyaw has been a member since the club was founded in 2013, and his involvement has brought new opportunities for him, to meet new people and travel abroad, he said.
“Going on tour are some of the happiest moments in my life, and I’ll always be a Yangon Dragon,” he said.
The six teams will be split into two groups, playing two matches each. The third placed teams in each group will contest for the Bowl, second place for the Plate, and the winners of each group for the Cup. The Dragons have been drawn alongside the Rahus and the Hanoi side, while the other group will include the Geckos, the Elephants and the Dolphins.
“It’s a huge honour for the club to be hosting this tournament. There’s an enormous sense of pride among those in the club with that achievement alone,” said first team captain Mr Paul Moynihan, one of several players out on the field who will be hoping to relive past glories, including the author of this article.
“We’re hoping to raise the profile of rugby in Myanmar, and raise the profile of Yangon and Myanmar in general. It’s a great country with wonderful people, but its reputation has suffered in recent times for many reasons. We’re all very eager to extend a warm welcome to teams from neighbouring countries in the hope they may return soon.”
Although it doesn’t enjoy the widespread popularity of football, rugby is not an entirely new sport in Myanmar. Independent Burma’s first Foreign Minister U Tin Tut lived for many years in the United Kingdom, where he played scrum half for Dulwich College and Queen’s College, Cambridge, two institutions renowned for the quality of their rugby teams.
For Saturday’s event the first game will start at 10am with the final due to kick off 5pm. Entrance is free, but attendees are encouraged to pay a K10,000 donation that will contribute to the Dragons’ charity programme. The day will also include a barbecue, beers and kids’ games.
The Indochine Cup was first hosted in 1999. The Saigon Geckos are the most celebrated team in the cup’s history, taking home the title 10 times, followed by Phnom Penh, with six. Hanoi and Vientiane have won the tournament once each. There was no tournament in 2013.