Rugby in Indonesia


Rugby Friends

Persatuan Rugby Union Indonesia

Guesthouse and Investment Opportunities @ Smiling Hill, Batam, Indonesia
Goodies Restaurant, Batam, Indonesia - the best place to watch rugby on the island.

A special word of thanks:

If I hadn't spent my remaining pennies on a double butted chromoly steel contraption with no engine, I would certainly be looking at Batam, Indonesia as a place to invest for the future.

Rugby enthusiasts Doug and Mike kindly invited us to come and stay with them at Smiling Hill on Batam Island, a short ferry ride from Singapore, and it was an offer we simply could not refuse. The Australian pair manage a complex of guesthouse apartments and investment opportunity properties on Smiling Hill, in the growing tourist island of Batam. The complex has integral roots into the local community, providing entertainment and work opportunities, and is expanding year on year.  Well worth an e-mail to either or to discuss a range of opportunities to private or corporate overseas investors.

With a whole week to wait until our ferry to Jakarta, we were doubly thankful to be catered for in Goodies Bar & Restaurant at Smiling Hill.

Goodies has played regular host to touring rugby players in Indonesia and Singapore, and it was certainly no surprise to witness a full house to watch the SUPER 15 action, especially when I discovered their special offer. It also turned out to be the perfect venue to catch the June episode of Total Rugby TV, featuring the season round up of the Unilever Premiership and 2 deluded cyclists from England.

Goodies at Smiling Hill, Batam: Free beer between 4:30pm-6pm every Friday.

Naturally, we can't quite remember what happens after 6pm on Fridays.

World in Union Scroll - Profile

Name: Stephen Barber

Role: Co-founder of Indonesian Rugby Union, Chairman of the PIRU and Former National player

Captain Kirk, Scotty and a ferry we had to Klingon to!

I'm now more certain than ever that Indonesia has provided me with my biggest cultural surprises yet. Considering we've already cycled through one country I didn't know existed, and one more that I couldn't have pointed out on a map if it was labelled, it suggests that my imagination had been a little wide of the mark. I had pictured desert islands, tuk-tuks and a free and easy day to day existance. In reality, it houses the world's 4th biggest population (around 238 million) and is home to the world's biggest population of muslims too. Traffic across Indonesia is chaos, and where the roads aren't falling apart, they are barely wide enough for the millions of 4x4s inhabiting the country.

Yet as it happened, our Indonesian experience was to hand us 1000 blessings and lead us to some fantastic rugby individuals, some great nights out and some seriously lame saddle time. To balance the scale a little, on one ferry transfer we found that our blessings were being carefully offset, one by one, by the number of cockroaches crawling on our bed.

We began our Indonesian saga with a short and quite painless ferry transfer from Singapore to the Island of Batam where we could then explore our options to divert further. Quite convenient, considering that there are around 17,500 of them scattered around the Pacific.

"Had we promised to cycle on them all?" I considered as I checked back to our mission statement with a little concern. I pored through our vague and carefully evasive wording, realising that no such promise had been made, and that to maximise our 30 day visa opportunity, we would have to use both our imagination and a fair degree of charity to see ourselves traverse ourselves to the land down under.

It was all looking good as we stepped off at the Batam ferry port, the bikes had made it off at the other side, and we were even sold a 'real' visa on arrival. Our new mate "Shoe" from Singapore had fixed us up with his work accomodation at Smiling Hill on Batam and had arranged for Doug, one of the co-owners and managers to meet us and guide us in. In just a short 15 minute cycle I was left realising how the man who had named Smiling Hill could never have experienced the climb on anything other than a combustion engine. Despite the shortest and most tiring leg of the entire journey so far, we were left with a staggering view of the Singapore skyline across the water, and when Doug showed us to our room, we knew we were going to enjoy our stay.

Like many good Australians, Doug was great company to be with and an extremely charitable host, but he lived with such a fascinating and positive attitude that you'd wanted to explore each chapter of his life, one after another. Any aspiring TV producers should get over to Smiling Hill and work on a pilot series of 'Doug', putting aside a DVD box set for us in the process. We know that Doug is his actual name, but from hereon we will refer to him only as 'Doug', a legend inhabiting an Australian rugby fan's body. Sadly his story will have to wait for another time, but he did sit us down for a few beers and find out what he could do to help. We were joined by his Australian friend and co-owner Mike who on his very own tour of the world, though his chosen method of transport had more wings and less spokes. We were well looked after indeed.

The very next day 'Doug', with over 12 years experience on the island, began to work his Indonesian magic for us. As we drove about the town, he hopped from one shop to another conversing with locals and exploring our options as only a local could truly do. He even drove us 30km down to another ferry port to find out for sure what exactly was going on, we had heard a few different stories already. Here lay the problem. There were only 3 realistic options from Batam. The first was to head to a nearby island Bintang and go through the whole process again. This didn't inspire us in the slightest. We had good company on Batam and to sit and wait for a ferry on an island with no local to help seemed problematic. The 2nd was to take a ferry up to the north of Sumatra, an island we had planned to cycle a few hundred kms depending on ferries, yet the ferry port on option 2 would mean an additional 500km of cycling across longitude and latitude we had already completed. We were a little bit thrown with the option, until we found our last, a direct ferry to Jakarta, our next Indonesian destination. Our minds were made up, the only problem, they leave once a week, on the day we had arrived on Batam, and take 38 hours to arrive. It was going to be another mini adventure with the bicycles.

Mike treated us to a very painful reflexology foot massage, which highlighted all sorts of muscle problems around the body. Painful as it was, we felt fantastic moments later, floating our way around the Indonesian shopping mall and letting the free airconditioning dry our teary eyes. The remainder of the week was spent relaxing with 'Doug' and Mike around the pool, watching the Super 15 action, an unusual episode of Total Rugby TV and chomping away on the Goodie's Restaurant food, and then Wednesday came back around.

Not wanting to "big ourselves" up (although it will sound that way), we've not been phased that often when presented with a physical hurdle or obstacle. We've had our share of problems on the way, giant crevasses in the road, collapsed bridges and 40km detours, and we've pushed for hours up numerous narrow mountain roads in winter, only to find they've been closed to traffic at the pass. Each time the resolution has been a tedious unloading of the bikes and making a few return journies by foot over or around the problem. Sekapang ferry port was a whole different kettle of fish and we stood motionless for about 20 minutes, staring up at the boat and trying to conjure a plan.

About 200 or so porters were scrambling around the dock, trying to elbow their way into the metre wide opportunity to load their cargo onto the giant vessel. At random intervals, a rigged stairwell would be partially lowered to allow up to 10 guys at a time to either throw up their boxes to friends, to jump and hang precauriously over the narrow space of water separated by land and 1000s of tonnes of steel. With 120kg of bike and gear, I really didn't fancy my chances with either option. As we waited, we edged our way closer with each lowering of the thin stairwell until finally we were given an opportunity to have the stairs grounded for a whole minute. I grabbed one bicycle and with a quick squat, stood above the porters trying to disguise the pain in my shoulder, it had been 13 months since I last used any of these muscles and they had deserted me long ago. I bundled my way past tiny guys carrying grand pianos above their heads and made my way up the shakey steps to drop my gear on the lower deck. Sweat pouring down my face, I returned back through the chaos in time to load Jo's bike. As we made our way on board, we looked back down at the chaos beneath, watching how porters would collapse backwards over cargo, pushed over by the heaving crowd and the dozens of heavy handed security staff. If not for the novelty of being the only white passengers on the 3,000 capacity boat, I have no doubt we'd be still rocking back and forward in the mahem now.

I'm normally a sound sleeper and can push aside the fluorescent lights, hideous karoake, and even stench of clove cigarettes to get some well earned rest. I've since found my sleeping nemisis, cockroaches. Each time we laid still for more than a few moments, we'd be woken by the light tickling of their antennas on our feet, arms, or sometimes top lip. It's quite unnerving, but with a 38 hour ferry ride infront of us, eventually we ignored the little bugs enough to get some rest. We eventually docked at 3am on Friday morning and at last got some phone signal. Thankfully for us, the Secretary of the Persatuan Rugby Union Indonesia, Bill Ryan had arranged for his driver to collect us, bikes and all, and bring us to his house. Known across SE Asia as "Indo Bill", he has been involved in Indonesian rugby since arriving in the mid 90s, and played an influential role in the initiation of the A5N, an entertaining and efficient structure that has been widely praised. He is a hugely passionate and enthusiastic individual from the US, with a love for rugby, and social concern for developing his new local community in Indonesia.

Being welcomed into Bill's house at 3pm was going to create an incredibly tight schedule for the day. We first had to get our bikes cleaned for DHL delivery to Australia, then collected by DHL before meeting Bill at his English Language school to give a talk to one of his classes. From here, we rushed back with Bill to get changed before heading out to the DHL rugby dinner in Jakarta on Friday evening. The guest speakers that evening were former Wales and British & Irish Lions Scott Quinnell, former Wallaby and World Cup winner Owen Finegan, and MC and auctioneer Justin "Sambo" Sampson. To say we were excited was an understatement, and when Scott came over to say hello in the pre-dinner drinks, I didn't think the evening could get any better. The doors opened and we walked in with Bill to our table.

"Hi I'm Owen" Owen Finegan said, as he took his seat besides me.

"Hello again" Scott Quinnell laughed, as he sat beside Jodie.

"Think we'll be pretty safe here" I thought to myself, completely overawed by the experience.

It was our very first rugby dinner and a fantastic one at that. 'Sambo' pieced the evening together with gags, introductions and some silky auctioneering work, Owen delivered some hilariously deadpan anecdotes on international rugby, whilst Scott wrapped up the evening's entertainment with a polished and animated 20 minute performace. I've rarely seen a backrow as dynamic on the pitch as Scott was on the stage with a microphone. Sambo even had a bit of fun by getting us onto the stage for a quick Q & A on our journey. It was without doubt the highlight of our tour so far and we must say a huge thankyou to Bill Ryan and Steve Barber for making us part of their Indonesian rugby dinner.

We would also like to shout a massive thankyou to James and Michele Brown from Australia, who kindly hosted us over the weekend, even with a very hungover Jodie on the Saturday! Both are wonderful people & passionate rugby fans who actively support the PRUI and all their events and we look forward to catching up with them in the future.

Steve Barber and Captain Kirk

Steve Barber, born in Australian of New Zealand heritage came to Indonesia in the mid 90s and was one of the co-founders of modern day Indonesian rugby. The union started as an Indonesian development board and was renamed a couple of times before settling as the Persatuan Rugby Union Indonesia (PRUI) in 2004. Alongside Bill Ryan, Steve and the union set out to develop the sport in the local community, helping to establish 16 rugby clubs and successfully forming the Indonesian national side, the "Rhinos" in 2006. Whilst sitting as chairman, you would also see Steve playing at second row for his club ISCI, and in the national team where he still holds the record for most tries, with 3. The Rhinos have seen steady improvements in their young international history and will be hosting and competing in the A5N division III in 2011 led by ever-present captain, Kirk Aditya Arundale, aka "Captain Kirk".

The Indonesian rugby community is now a very active and widespread body so for sake of ease, to find out more please click here for more information.

Bali and the memorial

We were kindly hosted by Kelli Mesritz, wife of Nick Mesritz and their two sons, Hudson and Archie during our stay. Nick is the President of the Bali Rugby Union and a regular player with the Indonesian national XV and his club the Bali Chillis. Although we didn't get to meet with Nick himself, I did have the pleasure of throwing around a ball with his 4 year old son Archie Tiger, who showed the sort of hand skills that I am still searching for in my late 20s. Watch out Super 15, the Tiger is coming !

After such a journey through South East Asian rugby, we had finally arrived at the ground that brought so many of the communities together in 2002. 27 Rugby players and supporters were amonst the 202 victims, as 2 bomb blasts ripped through busy public areas on the weekend of the Bali 10s rugby. The impact of the Bali bombings spread far and wide, affecting countless families and friends, in and out of rugby, and it was time to close the chapter by visiting the memorial remembering the individuals we had heard so much about on our journey.

On behalf of those who died in the Bali tragedy, we want to say that you are not only remembered on a corner in Bali, but your memory continues to live on everywhere you took your game.



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