The annual Asia Rugby Championship (ARC) 2017 Division One tournament kicked-off on Sunday, May 14 at Ipoh Padang, Ipoh.
Held for the first time in Ipoh, the championship was also a qualifying tournament for teams aspiring to compete in Rugby World Cup (RWC) 2019 in Tokyo, Japan. The winner of ARC 2017 Division One will get to compete in the Premiere Division 2018 and a slot at the subsequent RWC 2019 repechage round.
Being the host, and having won the championship title last year, Malaysia aimed to defend the title and get through to the Premiere Division in ARC 2018. Fans’ hopes of seeing the national team lifting the trophy for the second time were realised when Malaysia won all the three games, acquiring 14 points to top the table.
Incidentally, the four teams competing in ARC 2017 Division One were Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Philippines and United Arab Emirates (UAE).
Sri Lanka, ranked 16 notches above Malaysia in the World Rugby ranking, was placed second in the championship with nine points, followed by Philippines and United Arab Emirates (UAE) in third and fourth positions, respectively. For coming out last, UAE is relegated to Division 2 in ARC 2018.
Winning Three Games
The national team faced UAE on the first day of the tournament. With three tries in succession by Jone Mawara Nasalo, Malaysia won the game 36-22. It was as a good sign for the national team, as it went on to win the two remaining games convincingly. Last year, Malaysia lost its opening game against the Philippines but rebounded and won the remaining two games.
The second game against Philippines was relatively easy for Malaysia. The defending champion was in control from the start till the final whistle. The team trounced the Filipinos 40-8 and clawed its way to the top of ARC 2017 Division One table.
Led by captain, Syahir Asraf Rosli, the Malaysians came out fighting from the beginning of the game with Sakiusa Terence Gavidi scoring 17 minutes into play and racing to a 25-3 lead at interval.
The final match against Sri Lanka was a nerve-wracking affair for both players and supporters. It was a battle to see whether the national team could win and compete in the Premiere Division or lose and waste another year.
The home team got its first try three minute into the play by Jone Mawara Nasalo. They showed their mettle despite three of their players being yellow-carded for bad tackles throughout the match. The result, Malaysia won with a convincing 22-9 score line.
Despite winning the tournament, there is still room for improvements said the coach, Lee Nyuk Fah and Malaysian Rugby Union president, Dato’ Shahrul Zaman Yahya.
Malaysia has still a long way to go to qualify for the Rugby World Cup 2019. With the available facilities in the country is the team capable of making the grade?
By winning the ARC 2017 Division One crown, Malaysia is the top-notch rugby nation in Southeast Asia. Is Malaysia ready to take on the best in the world in the coming years when we don’t even have a rugby stadium, to begin with?
With the win, Malaysia is now ranked 47th in the world. This proves that Malaysian rugby is on track for bigger things internationally.
An improved ranking does not mean a thing if the team does not train and play hard. It’s much tougher in Premier Division. Malaysia has now to contend with stronger teams such as Hong Kong, ranked 25th and South Korea, ranked 34.
Youth and Sports Minister Khairy Jamaluddin had promised to build a rugby home if the team performed in ARC 2017 Division 1. And it did.
Two days after the national team won the tournament, Khairy announced that Putrajaya and Universiti Putra Malaysia (UPM) in Serdang had been earmarked as possible sites for a permanent rugby stadium.
The national team can now look forward to a designated ground for training and a place to call home. The players currently train at either UPM in Serdang or at Cobra Club in Petaling Jaya.
This new development augurs well for rugby in the country.