Rugby – The Haunting Game

1. Last weekend I had the privilege to attend the prestigious U-16 SBP 7s Rugby Tournament hosted by SEMESTI (Sekolah Menengah Sains Teluk Intan) in Perak. SBP stands for “Sekolah Berasrama Penuh” or “Fully Residential School” under the Ministry of Education. I attended the tournament to lend my support to my son, Muhammad Ikmal, school rugby team, Instar Orcs (Sekolah Berasrama Penuh Integrasi Tun Abdul Razak; SBPI Tun Razak), Pekan, Pahang.

2. This was actually the 2nd time I attended the prestigious SBP Rugby Tournament. The first time was in Jul 2017 hosted by Semashur (Sekolah Menengah Sains Hulu Selangor). However, my original intention last year was just to visit my son, Muhammad Ikmal, who was a player in Instar U-16 Rugby Team. Pekan is quite a long way out from my house in Shah Alam, hence the opportunity.

3. Just like the previous year, I somehow found myself “jumping up and down” along the sideline cheering and screaming at the players. Somehow the “adrenalin” rushed in and you became “halfly insane”….. I was somehow practically behaving like teenagers all over again…., minus the swear words off course….!!! It was a damn good but yet kind of “funny” feeling to experience that, as I am now way past the rugby ripe age of 47…!!! Luckily, I was not alone. They were quite a few spectators as well that kind of “behaving weirdly” like me “jumping up and down” along the sideline cheering and screaming on top of their lungs for their respective rugby teams. They were not coaches but behaving madly worse than the coaches as if it was the Rugby World Cup. Unashamedly somehow, I also fit this bill…..!!!

4. Come to think about it back, it does not make much sense for my case. My involvement in the rugby sport was very much minimal and extremely late by the boarding school standard. I only played rugby at my boarding school, Sekolah Sultan Mohamad Jiwa (SSMJ), Sungai Petani, Kedah, at Form 5 way back in 1988 (Gee… that was quite once upon a time ago… in a galaxy far, far away…). During my time, Rugby clashed with Sepaktakraw. Hence, you could only play either one sport but not both. I was in the Sepaktakraw school team since Form 2 and even represented the district team (Kuala Muda & Yan). Somehow, in my final year at the school, I was invited by my two good friends Salman and Kathiravan to play rugby. I was also kind of “invited” / “instructed” by the rugby coach, the late Master Habib Rahman, who was also the designated official school discipline teacher. إِنَّا لِلّهِ وَإِنَّـا إِلَيْهِ رَاجِعُونَ‎…, he just passed away last Thursday (19 Jul 2018). Just like the movie “The Godfather”, I couldn’t turn down the “offer” made by the “Don Coach”…. Being a sportsman myself (once upon a time during that time lah), I was also curious about the rugby sport. The rugby team always looked very smart but menacing in their jersey kits …. Macho lah kan….. So, in my final Form 5 year, after the Sepaktakraw district tournament which SSMJ won yet again for god knows how many years already in the row, I switched to play rugby instead of continuing playing sepaktakraw for the district. It was time to scale a new mountain…

5. That was the starting point of my “career” in rugby at the “last kopek” Form 5 stage. Rugby is a tough and rough game but strangely very fair. You learn about the rules and regulations of the games i.e. The DOs and DON’Ts. You learn about strategy and tactics e.g. “Dummy”, “Blindsides”, “Forward Drives”, “Rucks”, “Scrums” etc. However, the most important thing in rugby that you learn the most is DISCIPLINE…!!! Rugby is a highly coordinated teamwork sport where the players consist of all kind of sizes i.e. XXL, XL, L, M and S depending on the positions.

6. In order for the team to win, EVERY PLAYER must play their parts well. The forwards, the scrumhalf, the back lines and fullback must know their respective functions and execute them well according to the plan laid down by the coach. This is where the utmost DISCIPLINE values applied. If you are not “disciplined” in doing your job, you will be penalised and subsequently, your team might be affected. Trust me, you definitely don’t want to be the “culprit” in your team. Not with the other 14 “menacing” teammates on the field plus another 7 reserve players at the sideline (15s Rugby Game). The same scenarios also apply to the 7s and 10s rugby games as well. In order to make for the touchline (tries), it involves hard work, trust and supports from every player in the team to make that “glorious elusive” try. In rugby, even a mere 1-meter distance from the touchline could become the “holy grail”. The defending team will solidify their lines literally like a “brick wall” with nowhere to go but sideways. The attacking team will try to penetrate the defence line “like hell” accordingly. You learn to play under pressures both in the defensive and offensive scenarios. You learn how to make the best decisions in split seconds. This is where “teamwork” at the highest level is required and that is undoubtedly the “beauty” of the game. These are the traits and skills that you can never teach in a classroom.

7. I then went on to play some more limited rugby games for the Malaysian Students Association Rugby teams during my college years at Coventry Technical College and for the “Malaysians and Singaporean Students Association (MSSA)” of Bristol University during my study in the UK. Do read the words well. It was just “Malaysian Students Association” Rugby teams, not the “Malaysian Rugby” teams….. he..he.. he… Most of the players there played for their respective boarding schools. Well, we just played against the other “Malaysian Students Association” Rugby teams in the UK. Thank god we were not crazy enough to play against the bigger size XXXXXL “Mat Salleh” rugby teams. At least not for my case…… Thus, I could literally count the number of competitive rugby games that I had played throughout my short “professional career”….he..he..he. Hence, it is very much “incomprehensible” for me to be “madly jumping up and down” the sidelines at a rugby game considering my “minimal” experience of the game….. However, “mad” I did…..!!!

8. Rugby is a highly technical and tactical sport that develops good teamwork, great athleticism, high disciplines, creative strategies and charismatic leadership for the players. Its contribution to the good development of students is unquestionable. Hence, it is heartening to see that the rugby sport in Malaysia is thriving with so many tournaments organised throughout the year especially for the 7s and 10s rugby games. During my time, there was only 15s rugby tournament at the Kedah state level. There were only maybe 7 or 8 rugby playing schools with KSAH (Kolej Sultan Abdul Hamid) leading the way…… Hence, playing rugby matches were quite a “premium” for those days.

Khairil Fithri with Dato Shahrul Zaman Yahya

9. I was fortunate to have met the Malaysian Rugby Union (MRU) President, YB Datuk Sharul Zaman, who is also the ADUN for Rungkup at the tournament. He was an ex-student of STAR Ipoh (Sekolah Tunku Abdul Rahman). We talked about rugby in general and how the sports could be developed further. He talked about having a rugby “eco-system” where the school’s management, parents, teachers, alumni associations and corporate companies could come together to nurture the players and team. Thus, we need to have many “champions” at the respective schools that can become the “catalyst” to develop the rugby sport further. I could happily relate to the matter. Being a “mad rugby enthusiast”, I had setup Instar Orcs Rugby Parents WA group to get the parents of the school rugby players “together” albeit the virtual way. Here, we shared the information, photos and videos about the games when the teams played i.e. The “Ups and Downs” of the respective Instar teams in their conquest to win some tournament medals. So that the parents could at least virtually experience the triumph and sorrow of their respective kids individually as well as the whole team. The coaches also fed “behind the scene” information and photos of the children training, praying, dining and studying amongst others when the teams are on tournament duty. For a boarding school parent, it meant a lot to be able to see and be a part of the kids growing up process despite the obvious distance. We even collected our own donations from the rugby playing parents where Alhamdulillah, we were able to sponsor quite a number of rugby balls last year. This year we sponsored the purchase of the “Speed Ladder” as a tool for the training of the rugby players. I know of Semashur Zealord rugby parents group where they have their own uniformed T-Shirt and “toured” the rugby tournament together with the teams…., incredible…!!!

10. I was also fortunate to have met the Malaysian 15s Rugby Captain, Mohammed Syahir Ashraf B Rosli. Damn, he’s tough and big….!!! His presence gave a significant extra boost to the competing players and definitely for the tournament. I believe for the first time ever as well, the SBP 7s tournament was telecast live via the Facebook channel (https://www.facebook.com/Sbprugby/). That brought the tournament in particular and the Malaysian rugby sport in general to a new greater height….

11. In my case, I was privileged to play with my good friends and foes during my school, college and university years. I played with Salman, Kathiravan, Mat Ros, Cikgu Pun, Sofi, Nazim and many others during my SSMJ years. I played with Afu & Web (MCKK), Lengkung, Singh and Kataque (SDAR), Nan KE (King Edward VII School, Taiping), Juan, Akir, Emeri & Ayut (Bukit Bintang Boys School), Lan England (Yeap…, you read it right the first time, he studied in England but not playing for England….). During my school years, at the beginning, I played as a “hooker” (please google up you perverts….), then the back lines…. Contrary to the popular belief, where rugby players are believed to be “problematic” students whether attitude, academic or both, Alhamdulillah, many of us turned out good if not excellent by becoming engineers, economists, analysts and corporate figures amongst others. As for me, I am the GM of a small Malaysian Hi-Tech company called FLIR Asia…. (http://flir-asia.com.my)…. A little bit of marketing ok…. By the way, I was told that Tun M’s favourite sport is RUGBY…!!! He even played rugby during his KSAH’s years…..

12. Back to the 2018 SBP 7s Tournament, it boasted the highest participating SBP schools to date @62 schools, inclusive of some boarding schools in Sabah and Sarawak. This was also the inaugural year for the girls Rugby Touch games where 20 schools participated. You could get the detailed information of the tournament at http://rugbysbp18.blogspot.com/. Apparently, the balance of rugby power has shifted quite significantly for the past few years. The once dominant traditional rugby powerhouse schools such as MCKK, STAR, SDAR, SMSS and SAS amongst others were no longer there. The new rugby powerhouses are Semashur, Integomb and Saina. By the way, Saina is the champion for the 2018 SBP 7s edition. SDAR is the runnerup.

13. As for Instar Orcs (http://instarpekan.blogspot.com/), they have improved quite tremendously by leaps and bounds in the short past one year. In the 2017 tournament, Instar Orcs U-16 Boys team was the runnerup for the Saucer Category Competition. However, this year Instar Orcs U-16 Boys team was the semi-finalist of the higher Bowl Category Competition. As for the Instar Orcs U-16 Girls team they finished at the respectable semi-final stage in the Spoon Category Competition. Congratulations to Instar Orcs coaches, Coach Sufyan B Hassan and Coach Mohd Nakhaei B Che Malik who have been tirelessly and relentlessly trained and looked after the boys and girls of Instar Orcs, and also to En Zulkifli B Ismail (PK Ko-Kurikulum) and En Muhamad Yazid B Abdul Wahab (Instar Principal) for their strong support. Last but not least, to all the Instar Orcs parents who have been very supportive to the team by allowing their kids playing rugby and sponsoring the teams. Who knows, maybe one day, Instar Orcs could be at the pinnacle of SBP 7s Rugby Tournament…..

14. As a parent, it is not “easy” to see your own boy or girl gets into the perceived “barbaric” no holds barred warzone situation, especially for the non-rugby playing parents. My elder son, Muhammad Izzat, played for the Integomb Titans when he was schooling there until 2017. He broke his right leg when he was undergoing rugby training at F2. He was out for about 3 months undergoing two operations. The first operation was to insert the metal and screws, and the other operation to extract the installed metal and screws. Surprisingly, he still wanted to play the rugby games after, Alhamdulillah, the successful rehabilitation programme. More surprisingly, the mother was pretty much cool about it…..
15. Hence, to all the parents, school principals and teachers, please give the rugby players supports and respects that they deserve….. Insha’Allah….

Scholar, Sportsman, Gentleman…….
KF
22 Jul 2018

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