Saturday, 9 June 2007

1978 - Malaysia Schools Rugby Champion

King Edward VII School, Taiping is a school rich in rugby tradition. Till today, it is still perenially amongst the elite in schools rugby in the country. Rugby was played at the school as far back as 1923. However, in 1978 after one and a half decades of playing bridesmaid to Malay College Kuala Kangsar in Perak schools rugby a transformation happened that made KEVII the kingpins of Malaysian schools rugby till today. Currently, KEVII is the reigning Premier Schools Rugby Champion. The following exchanges 2 years ago in my EGroup tell the story:

From: Cheahs
Sent: Thursday, April 21, 2005 3:21 PM
Subject: KEVII Beat MCKK

Received SMS from Raja Omar Ikram. Our rugby team beat MCKK, 26-12 at Teluk Intan yesterday to take the Perak schools title. Apparently, they wanted a neutral venue. They may have celebrated a grand centenary this year, what with all their well conected and privileged old boys but once again The Tigers have spoiled their party! Congratulations to the team!



Thong wrote:

Great news, bro! And now, the M'sian schools championship...we didn't win again since 1978, did we?

Sent: Thursday, April 21, 2005 6:13 PM

Subject: Re: KEVII Beat MCKK

I was at that game in 1978. The only girl in the bus all the way to KL. What a game it was. Great news today, hope they're enroute to re-create the spirit of 78.


From: Cheahs
Sent: Thursday, April 21, 2005 9:58 PM
Subject: RE: KEVII Beat MCKK


It is heartening to be reminded of your keen interest in rugby at KE. As a matter of fact I do remember seeing you at the games. The KL trip your referred to was probably in 1979. I do not remember any trip to KL for rugby except for the trip to Kuala Terengganu via the Karak Highway.

1978 was rugby revival year for KE. We won the national championship after beating RMC at the MCKK ground. In the Perak state championship we beat Andersons in the final at Ipoh after accounting for MCKK along the way. We played all our interstate games away. The Terengganu game was against Sultan Sulaiman School in the semi-final. After beating them we were elated to hear that the final was to be in KE. Unfortunately, RMC requested a neutral venue and we sportingly obliged. The Tigers Den is a feared place for visiting teams. I think the school chartered 13 buses for the trip to Kuala Kangsar.


You were a pillar in the 1978 team as well as in 1979 and 1980. I believe KE was also state champions in 1979 and 1980 but lost to MCKK 0-4 in 1981; am I right? I remember watching you guys beat VI in KL in 1979 or 1980. This was probably the KL trip referred to by Suet Fun. I also watched KE beat touring Vajiravudh of Thailand and St Andrews of Singapore.The 1979 team had a wonderful backline compared to the less fancy but efficient backs we had in 1978. The 1978 team had a very good pack led by Mizi Mahmud.

I think after 1978 the MSSM change the inter-state format to having combined-schools state teams. Though KE players dominated the Perak teams back then, it was never the same again. Tell us about all that Thong.


From: Fadhil

Sent: Monday, April 25, 2005 10:52 AM
Subject: Re: KEVII Beat MCKK

dear edwardians,

perhaps this is an opportune time to introduce myself. The name is choong voon leong now known as Muhammad Fadhil Choong. same batch as raja omar ikram, mah siew sian, Hwang Thiam Hwa, Khairul Najmi etc but was spirited away to RMC in 1978 after Form 3. I was at the historic RMC/KE match at MCKK and was quietly pleased that KE beat RMC. KE was a formidable team then if you knew the calibre of the RMC players.

Thong, we were in the same Under 15 badminton team together with Loong Seng. I was playing doubles and we were ably trained by your father. Remember?

voon leong

Sent: Monday, April 26, 2005 2:55 AM

Subject: Re: KEVII Beat MCKK

Hi Fadhil, glad you finally posted. I was just on the phone to Mike Naser Taib this morning. He was a former president of the Old Putra Association and founder member; also a Tiger before he went to RMC like you. Somehow the Tiger Spirit does not fade and as they say, "Once A Tiger, Always A Tiger"! He is trying to spark off something for the OE Association in KL; something along the lines of perhaps the Tigers Den that was discussed here a few weeks back. As a matter of interest I am forwarding a brief he wrote to Tun Ling recently....from one OP to another (2 ex-OPA presidents at that); discussing not about RMC but KE7!!

I am in touch with many Tigers who are also Old Putra. You may know some of these names; Bashah Harun, Shaharuddin "Badak" Ariffin, Mohd Sofian Arshad,....they too remain Tigers at the core. Being Raja Omar's batch you would be 3 years my junior. The diminutive Raja must be one of the best scrumhalves KE ever produced and he was bloody resilient; seen him take big hits yet seemingly unhurt.

The historic RMC/KE match at MCKK. I was fortunate to be a member of the KE team. What a game it was! KE was the underdog and we knew the RMC team was a very good side. They had scalped Johor English College, SDAR or King George V of Negri and also I think Malacca High School. These were traditionally strong teams. We were quietly confident and felt that if we played to our full potential, we could beat any schools side in Malaysia at the time. Though we were told that the RMC boys were big, we were totally not prepared for what we saw! They looked like bloody adults!! Something I have to say is that hundreds of fellow Tigers who were there to support simply made it such that we had to win! Losing was not an option and personally, it would have blighted my entire time at KE as an unerasable black mark if we had lost that game.

Though the memory may have faded somewhat, the recollection of the emotions remains as if it was just yesterday. Since you also watched the game I would like to take this opportunity to tell the story behind this victory. It was unfortunate that for RMC to have met this KE team. We were a determined side and the fitness and weight training we had since the previous December made us a tough team to play. Our secret weapon was our coach, Pak Yiew.

In the decade preceding 1978, all we had was a rich tradition in rugby and little else. We had our share of "stars" but as a team we used to be whipping boys for the likes of MCKK, Sultan Abdul Hamid College, and STAR. Play was unimaginative, usually characterized by "up-and-unders" and chasing the wind! Defence was porous and it was a rarity for the ball to reach our wingers because of bad handling. We were tactically naive and our coaches were equally clueless!

I remember very clearly in October or November of 1977. Pak Yiew who had just taken over as rugger coach (after performing a fantastic job with the athletics team) called a meeting of senior players for 1978. He had the audacity to suggest that we would be Malaysian champion in 1978 and that was our target! Mind you, the players who attended the meeting were in the side that lost to SGI that year! I recall being at the back of the classroom with Mizi Mahmud and Shahrir sniggering and remarking "Pak Yiew ni gila!"

Pak Yiew built the backbone of the 1978 team with boys from the 1977 U-15 team and the remnants of the 1977 U-20 squad. He also recruited selected Upper 6 boys who were totally new to rugby because he wanted maturity to blend with the mainly fourth formers. Notable amongst these "novices" were Ng Chee Keong who was a sprinter in Pak Yiew's athletics team and Tan Poh Hong. Chee Keong's was a natural winger and with his speed, scored many tries during the campaign. Poh Hong was a wing forward and together with 16 year old Yusuf Mat Ariff, we had a pair who gave opposition flyhalfs and scrumhalfs hell. All three were also fierce tacklers. Fadhil, you probably will recall your contemporaries who were in Form 4, Zainal "Bochart" Abidin, Yusup "Gila" Mat Tais, Roslan Ibrahim, Lope Ahmad, Kuldip Kumar, Wan Baharin, and of course Raja O and Yusuf Mat Ariff. Those in Form 5 in 1978 were Loong Seng, Thong Chee Meng, and Zul Akmal. You probably also know Jalil Sha'aib who was in Lower 6.

35 players were selected for training which started during the December holidays. Each was paired with another of equivalent size and that was it for the season. I cannot remember the number of times I have carried Zul Akmal on my shoulders and running the length of the rugby pitch and vice versa. The focus until end February was on fitness and strength. We never saw a rugby ball before then. Pak Yiew made sure we had strong necks and backs. When the rugby balls first came out all we were allowed to do with them was passing. In March and April, we were drilled on basic skills; passing, receiving, tackling and interestingly enough, no kicking. Sometime in April, the scrum machine came out and by then we basically had 2 squads. That was when we got to play a bit of rugby! The forwards were put through the most strenous routines on the scrum machine, the rolling mauls, the rucks, lineouts, etc, etc. The three quarters (backs as they are called today) had their own drills of which tackling and handling were the focus. The two squads eventually became the 1st fifteen and the backup fifteen as sparing partners. Not all of us could be assured of a first team place.

For 1978, Pak Yiew's strategy was possession rugby. For this the mainstay of our game were the forwards. Punting the ball was virtually taboo. We had a strong pack in the scrums, with speedy wing forwards on the break. Mizi Mahmud, playing hooker was truely an inspirational pack leader and captain. Thong was our No.8 and of course he developed into arguably the best anchorman in the country during the 80s. Loong Seng and "Ironman" Hussein were the props.

Our backline were no pushovers too. Flyhalf Shahrir and his merry men! Jalil and Shaharuddin Latiff at centre and Bochart and Chee Keong the wingers. Lope Ahmad was a great fullback. It was a joy to watch them scoring at the corner flags after stringing passes right to the wingers. Lope often provided an added dimension as the extra man in attack. The ball handling drills meant that our forwards could also double up as backs!

Pak Yew taught us to play textbook rugby and kept things simple. Most importantly, to play as a team. The buzzwords were, "Cover and Counter-cover" was that simple! Yet, it was this that made us appear a team of more than 15 players on the pitch. We swamped most of our opponents. The other important thing was that we were a team of tacklers. It was difficult for teams to cross our try line.

The team was not allowed to play matches until May. As a first test, Pak Yiew let us play against Taiping Artillery Garrison of which we won by 9-0 I think. That was the game I saw Mizi carrying the ball and up-ending a muscular soldier by charging low into him head first.

Next Pak Yiew pitted us against the Police Field Force (Northern Brigade) who were the police force champions. We thrashed them and they lost their temper. Imagine policemen punching schoolboys! Following that, what was supposed to be a 3-test series with the Taiping Tigers ended after the second game. The first was the traditional present boys versus old boys game on the Friday before Sports Day. The Taiping Tigers did not have enough uninjured players after the 2nd game.

The shrewd Pak Yiew purposely chose adult opponents to harden the team and also build confidence. After that we were tested in 2 friendlies with Bukit Mertajam High School and Sultan Abdul Hamid College. The scores were 51-0 and 25-0 respectively. By the time we played Vocational School in the first district match it was a basketball score of 102-0. Then came the SGI game in end-June. Our team had scored more than 200 points with virtually no reply by then and we thrashed them 41-0 chalking up 3 penalty tries in the process. Georgy Porgy was collar-grabbing!

I believe the toughest game of the year was with MCKK. We had not beaten them in 15 years and the psychological advantage they had over us was obvious. This brings me to a ploy by Pak Yiew that really showed his mettle. Before the game, he showed up with a big bottle of clear water. With a serious look on his face, he remarked that it was "air jampi" and only muslim players could take a sip. Others who ate pork were forbidden to drink the water. The water was supposed to put "fire" in the muslim players and he said had been blessed by a powerful bomoh in Cangkat Jering! You guessed right, the water came right from the tap near Pak Long's office!

MCKK too had a very good team with a backline of jinkers. However, a backline cannot score without the ball! Our wing forwards were instrumental again. But this game was Shahrir's game! His conversions and the solo try he scored ensured that we won the game 26-12. Maybe it was the water.............. :o)

In the Perak final we met Andersons. This team had 5 players in the Perak senior side at the time and were fresh from a rather convincing victory over defending state champs STAR. We knew quite abit about them because Pak Yew was from there before he moved to KE. Their well known coach was a Mr Chan Ah Chye who also happened to be the coach of the Perak senior team. We beat them on their home ground, 19-6.

Compared to RMC, our interstate games were easy. Kedah gave us a walkover because we had already beaten Sultan Abdul Hamid College in the earlier friendly but BM High School wanted another try and our team comprising mainly reserves beat them 15-4.

The relatively narrow score line was not reflective of the overall control we had in the game. We beat East Coast champions, Sekolah Sultan Sulaiman of Terengganu, 18-0 to earn the right to play RMC in the final.

Against RMC, our worry was that our team had peaked too early. Our interstate games were relative easy ones and we knew RMC had to win through a few tough opponents. Our strategy was to deny them the ball as far as possible, but this was no easy task as they were much bigger. It was almost comical to see the comparison between the physique of the 2 teams.

Ours were shorter but stocky and they were tall and muscular. I believe they tried to intimidate us from the first whistle and we had to take some big hits. Our forwards played their hearts out, dishing out our own brand of hard rugby. In the first half, it was the RMC scrumhalf that let his team down and it was Raja Omar who tricked him twice into an offside position. The 2 resultant penalties gave us a 6-0 lead before RMC equalised with a converted try. A Shahrir penalty restored our lead before halftime.

I remember Pak Yiew firing up the forwards during the halftime break. By then we knew we could match RMC in terms for brute force and in the second half the forwards show greater aggression. It was heartbreak to lose Mizi through his recurring knee injury in the second half but his cover, Roslan Ibrahim was more than a equal replacement. He scored our only try barging through near the corner flag. Shahrir added 3 more penalties against a sole RMC penalty to make the score 22-9 in our favour.

So Fadhil, that was part of the 1978 story. In 1979, the team was even better and more technically accomplished. With Jalil leading a team of "veterans" it was no wonder they conquered all before them. They also had Huzir Mohamad who was a reserve winger in 1978 but blossomed thereafter. Huzir later went on to captain the Malaysian senior side for a few years. Raja Omar and gang took KL by a storm in later years and they formed the backbone of the Anchorman team then. Thong, Mizi, Shahrir and Jalil played for their respective universities and I think Thong had a stint with Cobra later. I believe in the mid-80s, half the Malaysian senior side were OEs. In fact, in 1980 I watched an HMS Malaya Cup game at the STAR ground between Selangor and Perak. The Selangor side had all the national stars including Malaysian captain Boon Hoon Chee, flyhalf Tan Soo Chong and winger, Lim Say Tee. All were at the peak of their playing careers. The Perak side comprised OEs from the 78 and 79 school sides and also included some schoolboys. Perak whipped the Selangor arses!

What did I learn from all the above? I learned one of life's valuable lessons: No matter what or who you are up against, prepare well and have confidence in your own abilities. Virtually nothing is impossible to those who believe!



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