Article by Craig Brown
The plan, post the SCC 7s, was to welcome the new players to the team, fair well those returning home after the 7s, and get down to the task of preparing for the COBRA Tens in Kuala Lumpur the next weekend.
Due to further injuries and withdrawals, the squad was missing 3 players, with the last not arriving until the Friday night, so no chance to join any practise sessions. Nether the less, the team progressed with a training run in Singapore on the Tuesday morning before the journey to Kuala Lumpur. The team was a bit travel weary on arrival into Kuala Lumpur, on the Tuesday night, with most retiring for an early night after dinner.
The remainder of the week was a mixture of training runs (4 field based and 1 gym session), two functions and a little time to explore Kuala Lumpur.
Thanks to Jon Chivers and KL Saracens for hosting the Penguins to dinner on Wednesday night, and Marc Daniel and Ting from Synapse Physiotherapy, for inviting the Penguins as special guests, to their end of year dinner on Thursday night.
Saturday morning dawned fine and hot – in fact it was the hottest it has been in KL for the COBRA Tens for many years. Even the first match at 10:10 was a challenge for the team, as it was well over 33 °C. After the police escort to the ground to beat the traffic the team was into the first warm up for the opening game.
Day 1 produced 3 pool victories, although the team struggled at times with both the conditions (very hot or very wet following a monsoon like downpour, complete with thunder and lightning) and the transition from playing 7s the weekend before to tens. Day 1 was considered a success with the aim of qualifying for the quarter finals achieved and the team improving in each game. All payers contributed to the 3 victories. A special mention for Lu Laulala, who scored 4 tries on day one given he landed in KL at 8PM the night before.
As only 12 teams had entered the international tournament, the top 8 were seeded 1 to 8 and the draw for day 2 was derived from the positions at the end of day one. Penguins were seeded 3 and Northlink (the other team in our pool to progress) were seeded 6th so we met again in the quarter final on Sunday after beating them in our best game of Day 1 38-5.
Sunday arrived bright and sunny again, but some rain had fallen in the night, so the temperature was a little cooler than Saturday.
In a tense tussle, the teams were matched evenly for the first half. The Penguins leading 7-0 at half time. Defence was key, with both sides making their tackles and scrabbling defences making the difference. Post half time, the Penguins used a forward orientated game more and got the big runners working close to the breakdown. Northlink, however, refused to lie down and scored a well worked try early in the 2nd half. The last quarter belonged to the Penguins as the Northlink defence tired, and the Penguins scored 3 converted tries to advance to the semi-finals.
In a repeat of the SCC 7s semi-final the weekend before, the Penguins played Borneo Eagles. Over the years the two teams have played on many occasions, and there is always little in the game. Borneo started brightest and lead for nearly the entire game. The Penguin team refused to bow, and kept plugging away. The Penguin scrum was superior most of the match with big efforts from Isi Tuungafasi, Mike Lea and Hame Favia. An early try by Mike Lea kept the Penguins in touching distance with Borneo. The next Penguin try was one of the highlights of the tournament. Jon Faauli broke clear through the first line of defence, and with the sweeper in front of him and 2 Borneo chasers on his tail, he had little room to manoeuvre. Spotting Antonio Kiri Kiri out wide, Jon put through a perfectly weighted kick to the left, from 35 meters out, for Antonio to out strip the covering defence, and to dive, catch the ball, and score in the one movement. Going into the last minute Borneo where leading 19-12 but the Penguins had the ball and were inching towards the Borneo line. After a series of drives and half gap breaks, the Penguins where camped on the Borneo line, but the defence was equal to the challenge. With the clock past 10 minutes and the game to end at the next stoppage, further drives around the posts resulted in the smallest of openings and Toma “Bubba’ Tia drove over, under the posts for the try. Nick Smith duly converted and the teams finished the game 19 all. So to golden try extra time.
Borneo kicked off and the Penguins retained the ball well. The Penguin forwards were making an impact in this extra time, dominating the scrum, lineout and the contact area. After a series of drives around the rucks, a couple of well won lineouts and the inevitable send the ball wide option, Ben Nee-Nee found himself on the wing to receive the ball on the end of a sweet passing move involving Liam Steel and Mitchel Scott, for a 20 m run in, to the left hand corner, for the winning try.
In the other semi-final, COBRA lost in a close match to local side DBKL, who were the surprise team of the tournament.
So on to the Penguins 6th COBRA Tens final. In a game of two halves, the bigger Penguin forward pack dominated proceedings in the first half, with the scrum and lineout ruling. At half time the Penguins had a deserved lead with a great team performance 20-0. Four unconverted tries to Hame, Ben and two for Lu. All contributed well.
In the second half, the Fijian dominated DBKL team refused to wilt, and got their running and quick break game going. The Penguin defence was stretched and they made the gaps tell with typical Fijian flare, to score 3 converted tries and take the lead 21-20 with three minutes to go. The come back from DBKL had won over the crowd, and the locals sensed a sensational victory for the Kuala Lumpur based team. However, it is not over till it’s over, as they say. The Penguins tried to keep the ball and revert back to the successful patterns of the first half, but DBKL were up to defending the Penguin attacks. With one minute left the Penguins earned a penalty on half way for illegal ruck entry. Captain Kylem said kick for the corner, and Nick put the ball well within range with an excellent kick to touch. From the resulting lineout, the Penguins superior forward size and technique did the job, and the pack produced a 10 metre drive from the lineout, to score through Hame. Nick added the conversion – just under a minute to play.
In a tense last period, DBKL had the ball for a couple of phases but it was turned over and the Penguins got the ball into touch
Brilliant – the Penguins won the COBRA Tens for the 6th time – 27-21.
Many thanks to all from COBRA for another well run and enjoyable tournament.
Back Row: Marc Daniel (Physio), Glenn Moore (Blues forward coach and NZ Women’s Head Coach - former Highlanders and South Canterbury head coach), Sue Olovsson (Masseur and Strapper), Michael Lea (Manurewa, Counties-Manukau), Luteru Laulala (Sydenham, Canterbury age groups, NZ U20), Ben Nee-Nee (Pakuranga, Auckland B, Blues Dev), Hame Favia (University, Waikato, NZ U20), Jonny Faauli (University, Counties-Manukau XVs, NZ U20, Samoa U20), Liam Steel (University, Auckland B, Blues Dev, NZ 7s Dev), Isi Tuungafasi (Grammar TEC, Blues Dev, Auckland, NZ U20), Tony Hanks (Blues High Performance Manager and former Waikato, Wasps, Sale and Russia coach)
Front Row: Craig Brown (Manager), Mitchell Scott (Nelson, Tasman, NZ U20), Antonio Kiri Kiri (Old Boys Marist, Manawatu XVs & 7s – Vice Captain), Nick Smith (Pakuranga, Auckland B, Blues Dev, Blues Tens), Kaide Whiting (Waimea, Tasman XVs & 7s, Otago), Kylem O’Donnell (Melville, Waikato, Taranaki, NZ 7s - Captain), Josh Tyrell (Marist, Waikato XVs & 7s), Toma Tia (Mangere College, Blues & Auckland U18)
Insets: Amanki Nicole (Assistant Manager), Malik (Liaison Officer)
Penguins 19 - 0 Sabah Eagles (MAS)
Penguins 33 - 7 Melbourne University (AUS)
Penguins 38 - 5 Northlink (RSA)
Penguins 28 - 7 Northlink (RSA)
Penguins 24 – 19 Borneo Eagles (MAS) (19 all at full time)
Penguins 27 – 21 DBKL (MAS)
Tries: 6 - Laulala, 4 - O’Donnell and Nee-Nee, 2 – Kiri Kiri, Favia, Steel and Lea, 1 – Tia, Whiting, Scott, Smith, Tyrell
Conversions: 13 – Smith, 2 – Whiting, 1 – O’Donnell
Points for: 169 Points Against: 59