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Our Special Relationship with COBRA in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Penguins | Thursday 21st August 2014 0:00am

It was 1993 and the RFU has been invited to send a team to Malaysia to the COBRA Tens. The secretary of the RFU rang Tony Mason and asked if the Penguins would like to represent England, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Tony selected 13 players and the day duly arrived for the squad to assemble at Heathrow for the Malaysia Airlines flight to Kuala Lumpur. Tony picked a team with a couple of old heads, some young faces, and some raw power. That first team was captained and coached by David Pickering (former Wales captain and current WRU Chairman). It was February and the team was heading to the tropics – forecast for fine weather and 35 deg C! Upon arrival the team was met by COBRA stalwart, and our liaison officer, Captain Din. Din gave us a briefing on Malaysian protocol and took us to the tournament hotel, The Crown Princess.

The next day was Friday and the team had 1 training run – it was hot! David Pickering put the team through its paces, but it was a bit of the unknown as none had played Tens before and we had all met for the first time at the airport on Wednesday night. Din later confessed that the tournament liaison officers did not fancy the Penguins chances because we had not played together before, or played Tens at all.

Anyway, the team went on to record a famous tournament victory and the special relationship with the men and women from the COBRA club began.

During the 1990s the Penguins played in the COBRA 10s on four occasions with 2 wins and also Penguin Craig Brown (who played in all four Penguin teams at the COBRA 10s during this time period), was invited as a guest player for COBRA in 1997.

David Townsend recounts

My first experience of the COBRA 10s was in 1996. I had got to know the Penguins at the HK Sevens in 1987 and 1988 and on their tour of the Far East in 1992. In 1996 I was working in Singapore and my wife and I decided to go and support the team in KL. As part of that trip discussion took place about a new sponsor for the Penguins (HSBC as it turned out) hence one of the reasons for our affection for the COBRA 10s - you could say it was the facilitator!

Post 1996 I had many happy return visits to the COBRA Club and the world famous COBRA 10s with admittedly some lows. In 1996 we were beset with injuries and could not do ourselves justice, and, of course there was the disappointment of losing in the semi-final to Ponsonby's infamous "penalty try" some years later. But such things pale into insignificance against the victories in 2006 and indeed, back-to- back victories in 2010 & 2011. Also there was the great backdrop of the warm welcome and long term friendship of all the Senior Officials of Cobra Club, with a special mention from me for Tommy Pereira and KT.

On a final note there is nothing quite like taking the coach to the COBRA 10s stadium flanked by a Malaysian Police escort!

As the Penguin – COBRA relationship developed, and lifelong friendships were established and strengthened, discussions turned to how the Penguins could partner with COBRA to help the development and sustainability of rugby in Malaysia. COBRA was in the process of setting up the COBRA Rugby Development Programme with IJM as the initial sponsor starting in 2004 with CIMB assuming the title role sponsor in 2005 (thanks to Dato’ Mohd Shukri for CIMB’s long running support of the initiative).

Initial discussions with Charlie Wong and Tommy Pereira centred on the Penguins joining with the COBRA Rugby Development Programme to run coaching clinics in schools around Malaysia to up skill the players. The Penguins had the vehicle to undertake this – the HSBC Penguin Coaching Academy. As the discussions gather momentum it was decided a better approach would be to up skill the coaching ability in Malaysia such that the schools had qualified, skilled and confident rugby coaches who could coach their players week in week out.


TJ and Charlie discussing the next coaching course, or perhaps that evenings activities!


Recollections from Gary Henderson

Over the last 6 years, I have been fortunate to visit Malaysia with the Penguins to deliver coach education and coach development on a number of occasions. When we first started, we delivered a Penguin Level 1 and 2 course to coaches and school teachers, but quickly we were able to establish a partnership with the International Rugby Board to deliver their qualifications and awards in Malaysia.

We have delivered courses in many varied places, stretching from Alor Starr in the North, to numerous venues in Kuala Lumpur, (including the renowned COBRA club, and the Royal Malaysian Air Force base), Sandakan in Borneo in the east and Malacca in the South.

Well over eight hundred coaches and teachers have been qualified through the support of Penguins in cooperation with COBRA, and this has led to ten times the number of players being introduced to the game.

The quality of the Penguin Trainers and Coach Educators and the enthusiasm of our COBRA partners in arranging all aspects of the courses has led to a real shift in coaching style in Malaysia, away from the more didactic, to one in which rugby is introduced in an enjoyable, game sense manner, which remains safe to participants. This was so evident by the fact that despite soaring temperatures, the coaches and teachers still wished to continue playing the games they had recently learnt, how to introduce and coach long after the days educational activities had finished.

The people of COBRA are world class and every rugby person should try to plan at least one trip to meet the COBRA people at some stage in their life. It is the drive of people like Charlie Wong, Tommy Pereira and others which has really helped develop the game in Malaysia with tangible results.

A model was agreed upon and the first academy tri to Kuala Lumpur was planned in February 2005 to run a week long level 1 coach education course. Over the next few years the course was tailored to suit local conditions and content requirements, and eventually the partnership agreed to move to use the IRB courses. Inter-mixed with the formal courses, a number of Continuous Professional Development tutorial courses were run. These lasted from 2 to 5 days. These proved to be very useful as they provided a pathway with smaller steps as the local coaches moved from IRB level 1 to level 2.

Over the years the Penguin coaches with assistance from COBRA have educated over 750 Malaysians to at least IRB level 1 or equivalent, with the majority school teachers, but also including many players and other rugby enthusiasts. Significant benefits have been witnessed since 2005 with a significant rise in the standard of school boy rugby. The COBRA schools tournament is one example. No overseas team has won this tournament as the top Malaysian schools are too strong.

The Penguins have used over 30 coaches in their various trips to Malaysia with John McKittrick, Tony Robinson, Craig Brown, Gary Henderson and Lynn Evans the most frequent visitors.


Neil Young coaches local ladies


The Penguin’s good friends at COBRA include:

Charlie Wong – a retired Colonel from the Malaysian army, Charlie has been the driving force behind the CIMB COBRA Rugby Development Programme since its inception. He has welcomed every Penguin coaching touring party and worked them hard both on and off the field! Charlie always has a smile and knows how to get things done.

Tommy Pereira – current President of COBRA and a man who is always interested in what you are up to. Tommy is a good man to know with many contacts and can recommend any type of restaurant you might desire.

Naza Bohoran – Din was the first ever COBRA man the Penguins met – our initial liaison officer in 1993, he knew where to find things. There is always a warm smile from Din when you meet him at COBRA. Rumour has it from 1993, that whilst 12 of the team where tucked up in bed, Din took our captain, David Pickering, out on the town on Saturday night...

Boon Hoon Chee – past president and an ace man on the guitar – always the centre of the party when the guitar is required and always provides a warm welcome at COBRA. A knowledgeable rugby man, who has represented Malaysia on a number of occasions.

Tan Sri Krishnan Tan – past president of COBRA and a long-time friend of the Penguins. Always a useful man to have a chat to, as he knows how things work, especially when you need to get rugby involved somehow!

Rory Teng – House Captain Rory Teng has done a fabulous job in growing the COBRA Club. He always has a cold beer ready and is a star in the kitchen. You name it, he can cook it! Rory has been feeding Penguins for over a decade now!

TJ – an energetic character who has no off button! Always in the middle of the mischief and often known to lead the fun, TJ is a must visit on any trip to Malaysia. He is a bug buster by profession, so if you need any pests exterminated he is your man!

Kim Fatt – an early friend of the Penguins who still wants to know what the Club is up to. A handy man to know for directions around town as well. Lives up in Bukit Tinggi now which is a very interesting place to visit.

Busu – the original bar man at COBRA in Penguin times. A large man with a large smile and always a story to tell. Did wonders with keeping the refreshments flowing! Sadly no longer with us.

Hang – the go-to man and the Penguin liaison officer – knew everything about getting things sorted. Always a smile, always a solution. He was an integral part of the Penguins for about 10 years, and has joined Busu in the great COBRA club in the sky.


Charlie Wong taking a wee nap!


Fond memories from Lynn Evans

I am not certain of the number of visits I have done to COBRA but it must be near double figures. COBRA is an amazing rugby club that almost runs like a national organisation for Rugby. The most incredible man is Col Charlie Wong, who has become a real friend over the years. He has put a massive amount of time and energy into his multi-faceted role at the club. He has been the driving force behind the coach education programme at the club and has always been available to help and support the Penguin coaches in any way in can. I look on him as a true friend.

The challenge I found with COBRA was the ability to survive the nightly social programme and the never ending supply of jugs of ale. A man of my physical and chronological age found this a massive challenge! These sessions were conducted in the company of social leaders, namely one A Robinson and G Henderson, both formidable socialites.

The coaching courses run by the club help to promote rugby in the schools by encouraging teachers to spread the rugby message. My most memorable trip was to the east side of Malaysia to Cherating accompanied by our COBRA hosts, where for the first time in my coaching career I worked on a Level 1 course on the most glorious white sandy beach I have seen. Clearing a monkey from the roof of my accommodation was also a first, but not before sampling a lager in the beachside swimming pool in the company of Craig Brown. COBRA has to be a world leader in the number of courses it has organised in an effort to spread the game of rugby in Malaysia, and to improve the quality of the coaches in the country.


Lynn Evans coaching on the beach at Cherating


Penguin visits to Malaysia

XVs tour – 1993 COBRA 10s - 1993, 1994, 1995, 1995, 2000, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2013

Year Coach Education Venues Player Development Venues
2005 Kuala Lumpur, Penang, Melaka and Kuala Terengganu Kuala Lumpur and Selangor
2006 Kuala Lumpur x 2, Alor Star and Cherating Kuala Lumpur and Selangor
2007 3 courses in Kuala Lumpur Kuala Lumpur and Selangor
2008 2 courses in Kuala Lumpur Penang, Kuala Lumpur and Sandakan
2009 Kuala Lumpur and Sandakan Kulai, Kluang, Merlimau, Masjid Tanah, Seremban and Kuala Lumpur
2010 Kuching and 2 courses in Kuala Lumpur Kota Tinggi, Pengerang, Mersing, Batu Pahat, Muar
2011 Kuala Lumpur Mersing, Pekan, Kuantan, Termoloh and Kuala Lumpur
2012   Kota Bharu, Peng. , Kuala Krai , Petang , Pasir Mas and Selangor 
2013   Penang, Butterworth, Kuala Lumpur and Selangor

In summary, COBRA is the Penguins second home. It is the place the Penguins have visited outside of the UK on more occasions that any other and we hope this will continue.


Craig Brown and Tony Robinson seek shelter during a famous Malaysian tropical storm







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HSBC Grove Tsumani
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