Hong Kong Sevens

How landmark trip to Kowloon Tens helped spark a revolution in Laos

The game is starting to take off in impoverished country after last year's historic visit

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 17 March, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 17 March, 2013, 4:44am

A documentary chronicling the Lao Nagas' groundbreaking trip overseas last year includes a segment where two players compare the size of the trophy they won at the Kowloon RugbyFest Tens to that given to Fiji, the Cup champions at the Hong Kong Sevens.

"Ours is bigger," says one player gleefully as they watch the Fijians lift the Sevens silverware.

Size sometimes matters, especially when you are trying to make an impression back home - the documentary was shown at the national film festival in Vientiane - to an audience where rugby is as alien as the creature was to Warrant Officer Ellen Ripley. And winning the Bowl competition at the Kowloon Tens has gone a long way in raising the standing of the Nagas, who are back at King's Park on Wednesday aiming for more silverware.

"The documentary about our trip to Hong Kong last year has raised our profile and made a lot of people more aware of rugby," says Pisa Vongdeuanpheng, captain of one of Asia's youngest rugby nations.

"My parents came to watch it and they were so proud. They saw the Lao flag on my shirt and are so proud I am representing my country. They also think it is great that I get to travel. If I didn't have rugby in my life, I wouldn't have the opportunity to see the world. People who make the sort of money I do, just don't travel abroad," says the 23-year-old Pisa, newly appointed rugby development manager at the Lao Rugby Federation.

The 20-minute documentary tells the fairytale story of how a small bunch of players battle against the odds to earn a place in the Silver Heritage Lao Nagas squad at the Kowloon Tens.

It shows them wide-eyed with wonder as they embark on their first plane ride and dazzled by the bright city lights of Hong Kong. The bit where the players eat a breakfast of noodles at a 7-Eleven before taking a ride on the MTR on their way to Jordan is a stark reminder that not all the teams in Hong Kong this week live in luxury.

But like everyone else, they have the hunger to succeed, perhaps even more.

"We want to play better than we did last year when we won the Bowl," says Pisa, who studies English at Vientiane College so he can communicate better with referees. "We want to win the Plate or Cup."

Another of his teammates, Serk Souliyachack, adds: "We need to do as well as last year, if not better. We can't take any steps backward."

The past 12 months has seen the fortunes of the national team rise. After a couple of seasons in Division Five of the Asian Five Nations, the bottom-most rung of the ladder, they won promotion last year to Division Four, defeating Brunei and Cambodia. It all began in Hong Kong.

"We were inspired by what we saw at the Hong Kong Sevens and both the Tens tournaments last year, especially by the number of children and youth playing and their standard of play," said Pisa. "That made me more determined when I returned home to work harder.

"The Hong Kong team are going to the World Cup Sevens in Moscow this year and I'm sure that is an inspiration to the youth, something to aspire to. We want to do the same thing here, act as role models for the young people of Laos and inspire them to play better rugby," Pisa said.

Life hasn't been transformed Cinderella-like for Pisa and his teammates. They still have to do odd-jobs to raise funds to partly pay for their trip to Hong Kong this week.

They will probably still be having breakfast at 7-Eleven. But they don't mind, for they are living their dream.