Heavy rainfall prior to and during the match precipitated difficult playing conditions, with both teams having to dig deep in their arsenal of skills and physicality to produce a game full of thumping tackles, rampaging runs that enthralled supporters of both teams.
Having worked hard on the training ground over the past two months, the Vagabonds knew a focused and determined start would be crucial, and immediately put the Cobras under the cosh inside the home side’s 22.
Solid Cobras defending, however, brought relief as Charlie Jones and Josh Lim looked to counter with impactful running, before Damion May found room down the blindside of a ruck with Augustin Lecoq in support. A try looked inevitable given the overlap until Vagabonds’ Jack Flues gambled on the intercept, the paceman picking the ball cleanly to race away for the game’s first score. A tough touchline conversion was confidently slotted home by skipper Paul Rothwell to give the visitors a 7-0 lead.
May and Lecoq would make amends for their earlier complacency shortly before the end of the first period, when May again exploited the Vagabonds blindside by deftly kicking through for the vigilant Lecoq to pounce on and score. Richie Davis was unable to extend the Cobras score, seeing his conversion attempt slide agonizingly wide of the upright.
At 7-5, the game was perfectly poised for a tense second period, but it was the Cobras that emerged from the break with more venom in their play, as Simon Dickinson and Dave McRitchie in the forwards questioned the Vagabonds cohesiveness.
With conditions deteriorating, the game evolved into one of attrition as players put their bodies on the line in the form of pounding runs forcing punishing tackles, before Most Padabyod and Patopong Hompeng combined, the latter eventually crashing over the try line to put the Cobras ahead for the first time in the game. Assuming kicking duties, May pushed his team further ahead with a successful conversion, the score-line now reading 12-7.
Cobras were to extend that lead to 15-7 going into half-time as Thitiphong Jarumaneeroj was given the simple task of converting a penalty from beneath the posts for an offending Vagabonds high tackle.
Recognising the value of their forward line, Vagabonds piled on the pressure after the interval to camp inside the Cobras’ 22, in return seeing remarkable defending from the home side to keep the visitors at bay. But just as the Vagabonds’ efforts looked to be waning, Nic Bruno ducked in at the corner to bring his team within three points, with the conversion being missed.
Games such as these can turn on a single moment of inspiration, and when Cobras’ Davies hiked a pressure-relieving kick to the half way line, subsequently gathered by Vagabonds’ Rothwell, none would have wagered on the Phuket player’s decision, let alone success, to go for goal. Nevertheless, Rothwell’s radar and boot were in tune as his sublime drop goal effort found its mark, bringing the teams level at 15-15 going into the final quarter.
The final period was breathless. Both teams sensed a win was within grasp, and after some sustained pressure from the Cobras, a penalty returned possession to the Vagabonds. Rothwell immediately effected a tap-and-go to then find Mark Innes, who broke through the Cobras defense to touch down in the corner. No additional points from the conversion gave the Vagabonds a tight 20-15 lead as the clock ticked down to five minutes remaining.
Scrum after Cobra scrum inside the Vagabonds’ 22 forced resolute defending before a knock on in the dying seconds looked to have sealed victory for the visitors. The formality of clearing the ball from the resulting scrum then took the most dramatic of turns when the Cobras pack won the ball against the head. An off-load from Jones gave Lim sight of the line before a last-gasp-tackle from Flues caused the Cobra player to lose possession forward and Vagabonds victory celebrations to begin.
The game’s MVP awards went to Luc Briand for the Vagabonds and Josh Lim for the Cobras, while both teams applauded the officiating by Mai Kiattichai and TRU Northern Rugby.
The Vagabonds’ next outing will be to the Krabi 10s scheduled for April 7-9. For more information on Phuket rugby, please visit their Facebook page.