Many unexpected changes between the end of last season and the start of this year's season stacked our deck against us. First, what I thought was "only losing two players" turned into only keeping two players from the previous season. Due to a series of unexpected last minute family moves, one player unknowingly missing the cut off date for the age requirement, and another player just simply not wanting to play again, I was now left having to recruit a whole new team and start over from scratch. However, the biggest blow came when we learned that the league decided to change the style of rugby from what had previously been 7 players a side to now 12 players a side. I jokingly told people that the league was too embarrassed that the small school of ICS was whopping the pants off of these mega-international schools and were trying to remove us from the competition. Regardless of the reason, I now had to not only replace all the players I had lost the previous season, but also almost double the size of the team, which is not that easy of a feat when our school is about 10% of the size of most of our competitors.
Despite all the challenges we faced in the beginning, my boys stepped up. I got 15 completely dedicated and hard working young men who bought into everything I told them and fought together as a team. The season got off to a little bit of a rough start losing our first game by a narrow 5 point (24-19) margin to the far more disciplined (at that point in time) Overseas Family School. However, it is important to emphasize that that game was 13 out of my 15 players very first game of rugby. From that point on, we now had a foundation for what we needed to improve on and improve they did. Our very next game was against the Anglo-Chinese International School and within 20 minutes we had mercy ruled them 54-0. Talk about a turn around! From there our team had all the confidence we needed. We followed that astounding win with a very hard fought win against a British boarding school in Malaysia 38-20, in which we traveled to Malaysia for an international game. After that the wins just kept rolling. We beat the returning champions, UWCESEA, 41-31. We beat the then undefeated Singapore American School team 64-31 (this was after falling behind 19-0 to start the game). By now we had earned quite a reputation, such much so that the next school, St. Joseph's International School, did not even want to play us and forfeited. Which set the stage for our last game.
In our league this year there is no championship game or playoffs. It is based on a point system where you get a certain amount of points for wins, losses, or draws. Singapore American School had already played their last game and finished the season 6-1. At this point we were 5-1. The tie breaker was based on the head-to-head match up, which we had won, so all we needed to do was win this last game to take gold. Although the team we were facing was not in contention for any medal, they were certainly no slouch. The Lycee Francias de Singapour School's only losses had come due to forfeits because of some difficulties having enough players. However, in the games that they did play, they won and they won big. In France, rugby is a much bigger part of the culture than it is in America or in Asia, so many of these players on the opposing team had likely had years of experience compared to our teams weeks of experience. Needless to say, yet I am still going to, our work was cut out for us.
The game started off very evenly matched. It was roughly ten minutes or so before we broke through with our first try, which was the longest we had been held scoreless all season. After missing the conversion kick, we quickly put another score on the board and this time added the conversion to give us a 12-0 lead. However, our cushion and security disappeared just before the stroke of halftime as we gave up a long run down the side line, which brought the score to 12-7 at the half. Imploring the boys to pour everything that they have into this final 25 minutes, the knights took the field for the second half as an indivisible unit, unafraid and determined. And, before a large crowd of their fellow classmates, teachers, and parents, the team played the most cohesive and united rugby that they had played all year. And when the final whistle blew, with a final score of 31-7, the dividends from weeks of hard work and fighting were finally there for the reaping, as we stood victorious as champions!
I could not be more proud to have had the opportunity to coach this group of boys. Their dedication, coachability, and unity is what led to their success. Any standard I held them to they rose to meet it, and THAT is why they can now call themselves: The Golden Knights.
(I am soaked due to the cooler of ice water that was dumped on me during the celebration)