Tom and Jodie posted a photo:
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Royal Selangor Rugby Club - http://rscrugby.tripod.com/
Bintang Rugby Club - http://www.klminirugby.com/
Cobra Rugby Club - http://www.cobrarugby.com/
Boon Hoon Chee
Ex International Player & Captain
Former National Team Coach
Malaysia. A melting pot of cultures, food, and well, quite literally a melting pot. It's pretty hot here. Apart from when it rains and then it really rains. Cats and dogs kind of rain. The kind of rain that you look outside and think how lucky you are to be inside, though of course most of the time we are not.
We didn't really know what to expect of Malaysia, different reports of the weather, the people, the food had wafted their way up to us in Thailand and so, as always, we decided to enter Malaysia with a completely open mind. With one of the speediest and most efficient border entries since leaving the EU, things were off to a good start and we pedalled enthusiastically towards Alor Setar in the North through the heat of the day. Immediately the new mix of cultures was clear. Mosques were side by side with Christian Churches, Hindu Mandhris and Buddhist temples. Food stalls sold Roti canai with dhal, nasi goreng or Chinese noodles and there was a disturbingly high number of KFC's. It was quite distracting. Words started to look familiar and I almost fooled myself into thinking I had somehow picked up Malay. 'Bisikal' for 'bicycle', 'Lori' for 'lorry', 'Sekolah Bas' for 'school bus' and my personal favourite on all levels 'Chocklit cek'. I don't think I even need to translate that one. This was easy peasy.
Our main goal having successfully learnt Malay however was to reach Butterworth to meet Neil, our rugby contact and socal member of the Royal Selangor Rugby Club. From there, we were to head over to Penang Island with him for a day off the saddle. Cycling became a bit of a dodging game between the rain and the midday scorching sun but we managed to keep to schedule and with utter relief arrived right on time, well we woud have done if we didnt get lost in the last 2km but never mind. Neil, otherwise known as our local hero here in Malaysia, found us and took us over to the island while we left the bikes on the mainland. Ah! A lie in and a day off in Georgetown, Penang. Perfect.
It was then that Neil helpfully suggested that we travel down to KL with him that Friday - by car! Aghast we argued that we couldn't possibly cheat, not now! Have you no imagination he replied? We looked at eachother quizically. Fear not, no cycling need be lost he said. You just leave the bikes in the office, catch a lift back up after the weekend and get back on your bikes. Ah... we really must get out of our boz more often we thought. What a grand idea.
Over night the clouds rolled in, and Tom and I needed no persuading to laze around until late morning. We nipped out in between storms but it didn't take long before the heavens opened and within minutes, the streets were flooded. I have never seen rain like it. The noise was thunderous. It seemed to splash up from every angle, above, below, sideways. We took the opportunity to duck inside and grab some food and gawped at the ever rising water levels on the road. After Tom had finished two lunches, or breakfast and then lunch he corrected, the rain had subsided so we made a dash/ swim for it and wondered quite how we were going to cycle the length of Malaysia if this was the type of weather we were in for. Happy to be having a few days more off the bikes, we packed our bags and crossed the mountains to Kuala Lumpur. Incredibly, all within a few hours, Neil had managed to arrange a whole weekend's schedule for us including the last match of the season for Royal Selangor Rugby Club, a catch up with the guys from Bintang RFC, the mobile number for Deano Herewini (Malaysian National Coach) and most importantly, a night in Sid's pub to introduce us to life in the big city.
We would just like to take this opportunity to thank Neil and his better half Pat for looking after us so well during our stay in KL. Your generosity, friendship and help has been incredible and we are truly indebted to you. We owe you big time! Also a big shout out to Jeff Siddle, owner of Sid's Pub for this...
This, my friends, is why I have not lost eny weight on this bike ride! But now to the main event - our rugby extravaganza in Kuala Lumpur.
The Malaysian National XV is coached by former Hong Kong International and Waikato prop Deano Herewini. Second cousin of former All Black, Mac Herewini, Deano's contribution to rugby since his playing days has been widely praised. Deano is a fantastic advocate for developing grassroots rugby and believes that the potential of a national team lays as deep as it's core roots in the culture. Not only does Deano have coaching responsibilities with Royal Selangor Rugby Club and the Malaysian National XV, but he was also integral to the formation of the Indonesian Rugby Association and is a regular feature in the HSBC Penguins coaching projects. The HSBC Penguins carry out grassroots coaching projects worldwide including a chain of orphanages and safehouses called "SOS childrens villages".
Although I recall the events of the Bali bombings in 2002, I had no idea that many of the 202 innocent victims were infact rugby players in town for an Indonesian tournament. Deano was coaching the International Sports Club of Indonesia (ISCI) at this time, and only for a last minute alteration of plans would have been in a taxi that claimed the lives of many of his team. Delayed only by a few minutes after a match, he was on the scene just moments after the blast and risked serious injury trying to get help to some of the victims. Hearing this story for the second time that weekend brought home just how close many rugby players in Asia felt to this incident. Only days earlier we had met with an IRB referee, Ian Taylor, who's life was literally saved by the silk shirt he was wearing that evening at dinner. Suffering severe burns his rehab had taken many months but others on his table didn't even get this chance.
It was an incredible opportunity for us to meet Deano at such short notice as just hours before our meeting, Deano had landed back in KL following an intense coaching course in Dubai and was just about to head to the gym! We thank Deano not just for his time and energy during a busy week but also for suggesting and introducing us to our Malay 'World in Union' icon. Thank you Deano - you are a true rugby champ.
Tom with Deano and Boon Hoon Chee at the Cobra Clubhouse!
With a number of suitable candidates to choose from, we were guided to a man with more than enough reasons to become a "World in Union scroll" legend.
Not from Kuala Lumpar, but born in the small town of Melaka, Boon Hoon Chee learnt rugby by watching the Fijian Military through the barrack fences. He later played at the local school before moving to KL and joining the COBRA Rugby Club in 1976. Although very modest about his playing abilities, one can assume that to be selected at Number 8 between 1976 and 1989 implies a particular pedigree on the field. He captained the National XV between 1981-1985 and also represented Malaysia at the Hong Kong 7s on all 6 occasions they participated from 1977-1984. Following his playing career, he became National 7s coach and after International duties, concentrated on his efforts at COBRA Rugby Club, most recently becoming President in 2010. He is also actively involved in coaching the annual COBRA representative side that compete in the professional tournament.
Boon was a true Malay gentleman and a kind host. We're very proud to be carrying his name to the New Zealand Rugby Museum in Palmeston North.
The Combined Old Boys Rugby Association (COBRA) was formed in 1967 with its main objective to encourage young Malaysians to continue playing rugby after school. The Senior first XV are one of the strongest 2 club sides in the country, in 2010/2011 finishing runner up to Royal Selangor Rugby Club. In addition to providing scores of naitonal players over the years, Cobra is most famous for inventing the game of Rugby 10s.
In 1967, a group of expats challenged a group of local Malays to a game of rugby, but not wanting to pack down in an unbalanced game of 15s, the haggling over numbers commenced. The expats, it seemed, had littled interest in chasing the swift footed Malays round in a game of 7s, and so it was agreed that each side should field 10. This format of the game was an instant success, allowing the lighter Asian players to compete on a level field with the heavier and bigger expats.
Today, the Cobra 10s is now a fully international competition featuring professional players from all corners of the globe. It is one of the highlights of the rugby 10s calender.
The Royal Selangor Club, aka "The Dog" was born in 1884, exclusively for the use of the British expatriate community. The rugby section began in 1892 and is by far the oldest rugby club in Malaysia. The club have historically been one of the top performing teams in Malaysia and are current champions following the 2010/2011 season. Today the RSC also stages the annual Jonah Jones 7s, and with the first one being held in 1962, it is Asia’s oldest on-going 7-a-side tournament.
As a club, the Dogs travel annually to the Phuket 10s where they deliver the proceeds from a clubwide fundraiser. This supports one of the greatest Asian rugby projects that sadly, we missed out on. Organised by Phuket's "Mr Rugby" Pat Cotter, the tournament is a huge fundraiser for a centre caring and educating many children left orphaned in the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami. In 2008, the IRB awarded both Pat and Roelein Muller of the Asia Centre Foundation, the prestigious International Rugby Board 'SPIRIT OF RUGBY' Award. Although missing out on Phuket, we met with Pat in Bangkok and we must thank him for his continued support and guidance through Asian rugby.
With our hosts, Neil and Patricia, we attended the second XV in and end of season match against a local Malay Uni called UPM. Once again my prediction on the scoreline were woefully incorrect, as the expats ground down their younger (and seemingly more agile) opponents running in around 8 tries in a completely one sided rout. As I watched the spectacle unfold, I turned myself back to the 1967 event, when a similar situation would have seen the 10s format emerge. Nevertheless, the game was played in an admirable spirit and try as they may, the pacey Malaysians could only muster the 1 try, a well worked backline move finding outside space from 50 metres out. Had it not been for extremely greasy conditions the match may have ended slightly closely. This appeared no consolation to one young Malaysian who clearly felt that even the 15s game wasn't slow enough for him.
We had allowed ourselves a comfortable 100km cycle to to meet back up with our Scottish friend Graham, and the Bintang General Secretary Ian Johns. All went to plan and we arrived, on cue in the designated town and looked for a cheap hotel to drop the gear for the night. It was already 4pm and Graham's suggestion of chatting rugby over a few cold beers was now more genius than ever before. We tried the first place, a $30 a night hotel combined with a mushroom farm, smashing our $10 a day budget, especially considering we'd already spent $5 on food and drink. With all the Chinese tourist buses parked outside the hotel, we searched around the town before concluding that it was going to be overpriced mushrooms or nothing at all. Ordinarily, the latter would have fitted the budget nicely and we would have camped up on the beach, but we had pedalled over 450km in 4 days to make this appointment and weren't going to give up. We texted ahead to our companions to advise of the problem, and got back on the road, hoping that the next town would offer something, it didn't. Neither did the next one, nor the one after that. With Graham and Ian driving ahead, inquiring with police, mullahs and anyone else into the accomodation options of their delightful communities we concluded that the only option was a further town, much larger and another 25km over the hilly palm plantations. We were out of water and exhausted from the 9 hour cycle, but it was clearly our last option. 10km out of the town, the phone vibrated in my handlebar pannier with a message from Graham. He had found a place to stay only 30 minutes from where we were, and he was shouting us the night in sheer sympathy for what he had witnessed. What a guy!
After a 165km slog down the west coast of Malaysia, the sun finally dropped beneath the palm tree horizon and we swung into the hotel carpark as darkness fell. Our Bintang guys were there waiting, enjoying a well deserved beer of their own. We certainly owe you one guys.
There can be few clubs worldwide with more dedication to youth rugby development than Bintang Rugby Club. Based in Kuala Lumpar, they were founded in 2007 after several seasons of operating under Cobra Rugby Club as the "Cobrats". BRC field a full senior side but their sole focus is on developing the sport amongst a series of strong relationships with local schools. The participation levels are increasing with each season and the club now boasts over 250 youth members from 25 nationalities around the world, many of the players Malay.
Some traditional and international schools in Malaysia already offer rugby under their curriculum, but only starting at U13s. Bintang's programme has seen sides created for U8s and upwards, with children as young as 6 years old participating in their training sessions. They have also initiated their own structured school's competition, the "Crown League" which Bintang Rugby Club has agreement to compete in. They also have permission to compete throughtout the season in a range of other school tournaments, testiment to the work they are doing with the Malay youth around Kuala Lumpar.
For a rugby club without even a pitch or a clubhouse, perhaps Bintang's greatest achievement is in organising the Bintang International Rugby 10s. This youth tournament has been held annually for the past 4 years, each season seeing a progressive increase in participation. Last year's event featured over 1,800 kids from 123 sides around the world. Teams travelled from as far as the Middle East, Singapore and Hong Kong to compete, with the 2012 competition already attracting interest from both the UK and Australia. These numbers suggest that the Asian tournament is already approaching record breaking status, along with "Etihad Airways Junior Rugby Festival" in the Middle East and the "Centaurs International Mini and Youth Rugby" in Singapore. Hong Kong hosts a huge tournament too, but specifically for Minis, which requires a much smaller playing area.
Our time in KL was manic to say the least, and the cycling since then has had its ups and downs, long days and sticky nights, but all we ever have to think about is the people we meet to remember why we are doing this.
We were lucky enough to also meet and have dinner with David Pine, New Zealand High Commissioner in KL & huge rugby fan, his family and colleagues during our long weekend. With David's help and enthusiasm for the project, our plans for NZ during the RWC have been rejuvenated and we feel very happy and honoured to have met with him. Thank you for everything David!
Our final words will really underplay what our host Neil did for us during our 5 days in KL. Without his help, much of what we achieved would not have happened. Not only this, but the hospitality he showed us, even allowed us to leave the city with our entire budget intact. You can't thank a man like Neil enough, not because you don't want to, but because he doesn't want anything more than the satisfaction of helping out. His words, "I've had enough hospitality over the years, just pass it on".
Is there a stronger argument for helping to promote rugby culture? We think not.
Signing out from a rather toasty Malaysia. At least we made it to the beach...
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View our route plan in more detail here