Thailand keep RWC 2015 dream alive
By Matt Oakley in Bangkok
Under a blazing Bangkok sun at the Thephasadin Stadium on Saturday, Thailand overcame India 42-29 in the play-off to gain promotion to Division 1 of the HSBC Asian 5 Nations next year and also keep their RWC 2015 dream alive.
In front of a partisan crowd of 1,000, Thailand justified their tag as favourites from the kick-off by working a try out wide for left wing Adsawin Taemyot in only the second minute of the match.
This had some predicting a cricket score, given past results between the two sides and the noticeably bigger Indian team, but these predictions ultimately would prove unfounded.
Thailand’s impressive full back Warongkorn Khamkoet continued his kicking form from when their victory over Malaysia at the beginning of June to win Division II by landing the conversion and then the first of his two penalties in the half to give his side a 10-0 lead after six minutes.
However, Khamkoet’s words after the match that “we were pretty small out there today compared to the body types of India, especially their forwards; they were able to use their size very well when they had control of the ball in tight” was indeed an accurate summary of proceedings for the remainder of the first half.
India, clearly well drilled by their coach Craig Wilson – on loan from the Hong Kong Rugby Football Union, thereafter played to their forward strength with three tries from rolling mauls and pick and goes.
Second row Surinder Singh scored two tries with the other by blindside flanker Sukhdeep Singh to give India a well-deserved 19-13 lead at half time and the Thais wondering if their tactic of kicking behind the Indian back three to turn them and then pressure with rapid chasers was the right one.
Thailand finish strongly
The Indian forward dominance was notable, despite second row Jagga Singh being yellow-carded in the 29th minute for blatantly failing to retire 10 metres at a penalty.
Thailand started the second half as they had the first and their pressure led to a successful penalty kicked after only two minutes when India transgressed at a ruck. The sides then exchanged penalties to make it 22-22 with 25 minutes to go.
But this was the last time that India were in real contention as the Thais started to secure and retain more possession and play to their backline strengths. India’s rampaging ball-carrying number 8 Hrishikesh Pendse did his best to keep India in contention, but a backline move leading to a self-converted try from Khamkoet in the 60th minute enabled Thailand to take a 29-22 lead.
A turnover to Thailand on their own 22-metre line six minutes later saw Khamkhoet blast through the middle for a 60-metre burst, with the Thais recycling the ball through the backs once more to put replacement wing Nutthapong Kiattibunyawat in at the corner, stretching the lead to 37-22 with 13 minutes remaining.
Division III champions India refused to give up and were rewarded when a converted try by loosehead prop Shokender Singh cut the deficit to eight points with as many minutes remaining.
Thailand, though, remained calm and played to their strengths and yet another exhibition of precision speed passing through the backline saw flanker Kamaldeep Dagar dot down in the corner.
Unity and experience
Khamkoet failed to convert, but the man of the match still had a personal haul of 21 points and did not need to worry as Thailand were able to run down the clock in the last two minutes.
Indian captain Nasser Hussain was valiant in defeat, feeling that their indiscipline to give away two penalties early in the second half had let Thailand back into the match. “In the second half, we gave away too many penalties, which were all put away for three points, but all credit to Thailand.”
India’s dream of qualifying for RWC 2015 is now over, but they still have promotion to Division II to look forward to and matches against Singapore, Malaysia and Iran next year.
Khamkoet’s comment that ”we were united throughout the match today and our experience together as a unit really turned out to be the difference” will need to be remembered over the next 10 months as Thailand prepare for a tough Division 1 format of three matches in seven days against Kazakhstan, Sri Lanka and Chinese Taipei.
Only the top two divisions of the Asian 5 Nations will now be part of the RWC 2015 qualification process. The Division I champion in 2013 will join the Top 5 the following year, the winner of which will qualify for England 2015 as Asia 1 and the runner-up will enter the Repechage.