Valley Kangaroo Rugby Football Club’s touring triumvirate of Mike Merrill, Kyle Matheson, and Joe Schmid organized an audacious twelve-day tour spanning four countries of Southeast Asia. The Philippines, Thailand, Cambodia, and finally Vietnam would be toured via air and land and the triumvirate did yeoman’s work budgeting, planning, and booking the whole tour.
Talismanic tour leader Mike Merrill promised it would be a tour unlike any other. So it proved. Indeed, at time of writing it seems unbelievable any of this happened at all. Yet it did. The Valley Boys again were global troubadours of the lost art of touring rugby.
Thursday, September 5th– Clark/Angeles City
After flying into Manila at different times the touring group finally met each other. While some tour stalwarts of the previous two years were there the group was leavened with an eccentric mix of tourists. Young lads touring Asia for the first time mixed with old boys including Mike’s father and his friend, founder of the Reno Zephyrs RFC. Yet another colorful Englishman recruited by Mr. Matheson was an instant Valley Boy. This man would have to be invented if he didn’t already exist. Some Eastside boys who finally saw the light joined the nasty Valley boys, the best club in the U.S. of A. for the tour. As expected, a legendary Valley feline was on his 200th rugby tour along with a tea trading shaman that is also a Pacific Northwest referee. These two added a distinct “je nais sais quoi” to the touring group.
A traditional pool party was held high above Clark/Angeles and as the boys got to know each other the signs of an unbelievable tour was undeniable and disturbingly real.
Yet there was drama and not all was rosy. Somewhere in Manila, our kit languished in customs. The prospect of going without kit loomed over the whole tour.
Friday, September 6th– Sun Valley, Fat Boy 10s Charity Golf Tournament, Kit arrives
Valley is the only side that competes in the golf tournament for the Fat Boy 10s golf and rugby weekend. As usual the boys were outstanding in competition and golf cart driving. The beautiful surroundings of the mountain jungle that surround the golf course bewitched all the tourists. As expected, the boys also won the hearts of the caddies that escorted them.
Later the kit arrived. Valley Philippines team manager Miss Mhay was able to intercept the kit on behalf of the club. Fittingly, in a fortuitous error by the kit vendor, every jersey said “Miss Mhay” on the back.
Saturday, September 7th– Challenger Field Clark Airforce Base, Fat Boy 10s Charity Rugby Tournament
As defending champions the Kangaroos had high hopes to retain their status as unlikely Yankee Cup holders. Ominously the boys opened the tournament for the third year in a row against the Manila Hapons, a Japanese ex-patriot team from Manila they had bested the previous two years. After an early try the Kangaroos were shocked by a superb kick and chase try by the Hapons and lost 7-5. Disbelief swept the tournament and the boys were faced with two options. Win out or crash out early.
In the second match they faced the Pot Bellied Pigs Lites and dispatched them with ease four tries to nil. A renewed sense of mission swelled among the Roos.
The third match was a life and death affair and one packed with intrigue, bad blood, and a desire for revenge. The Valley Boys faced the Manila Nomads, the club that unceremoniously put Valley to the sword in the 2017 Fat Boy 10s Cup Final. The Nomads gracelessness in victory still haunted those that were there. The match was a physical affair that ground down to what appeared to be a 5-5 draw, yet Valley had a lineout with no time left on the clock. They took it. After a deft take on the throw in the Valley Boys put together a series of five offloads in tackle culminating in a last gasp try at the death. Valley wins 10-5. For those of the 2017 Tour this was a glorious occasion and one that slayed the ghosts of 2017. Manila was graceless in defeat as well.
After failing to get help in pool play to overcome the loss to the Hapons, the Valley Boys had to compete for the Plate rather than the Cup this year. Yet everyone was of the same mind that hardware would be obtained.
The plate semi-finals saw the boys face off against the Singapore Cricket Club. This was an ill-tempered match against a team of ex-pat toffy douche bags. Rife with high tackles and unsporting competition the Roos bested these yellow and black clad jokers and sent them packing 5-0. This would, however, not be the last time the boys would face these unpleasant Singapore sanitary napkins on tour…
Déjà vu all over again touched the plate finals. After the dramatic Cup final victory in double extra time against the Taipei Baboons the Roos once again faced them, this time under the nom de guerre of the “Ocean Baboons”. The Baboons seemed to have the impression that last year’s victory was an anomaly. In a bruising encounter the sides were drawn when Lumpy was tackled by their star forward. Their star, after yelling and screaming after the tackle was confronted by Lumpy in what was a turning point in the match. Lumpy then crushed him in their next encounter and the Valley Boys found themselves inside the Baboon’s twenty-two meter line. In dramatic fashion a wide-eyed Nolan made a daring skip pass to Kyle on the wing who then deftly pranced into the corned and sealed the win for the Roos earning them the Plate.
The ultimate Cup winners were the Pot Bellied Pigs own Clark Jets, a group of orphans and impoverished children from Angeles City nurtured and trained via the proceeds from the annual tournament. While it was a heart-warming victory for the Jets and Pigs the Roos again seemed to be the team of the tournament.
Lumpy and Shoe distinguished themselves in the forwards while the whole of the backline were superb: Freddy, Nolan, Kyle, Brandon, Crash, and Wee all playing out of their heads and most played every minute of the tournament.
Sunday, September 8th– Kangaroo Court, rest day and Pampang Market
Court proceedings under permanent seal.
A needed rest day also resulted in some boys taking in local culture by going to the Pampang Market. Not on any tourist travel guide, the Roos were the only Canos in the market that day and were guided by Miss Mhay. Many received curious looks and shy smiles yet all enjoyed a visit to this bustling market. Frank the Tank introduced the boys to the wonders of Halo Halo at a mall nearby.
Sadly, Joe had to leave us to attend an Anthony Robbins convention and multi-level marketing retreat at the Tacoma Dome.
Monday, September 9th– Travel to Bangkok
A harrowing trip leaving at 02:30 found the Roos bedraggled and in a stupor in the Manila airport. It seemed the flight may be missed but luckily everything came together and the Cebu Pacific plane was boarded without a hitch.
The boys enjoyed the sights of Bangkok by partaking in a canal tour. Later, on Khao San road, many an arachnid, insect, and other exotic street foods were consumed. Trinkets and curiosities were bartered and everyone enjoyed their brief time in Bangkok.
Tuesday, September 10th– Travel to Siem Reap
After a lovely night out the boys set out to Siem Reap and the wonders of nearby Angkor Wat. Along the way, just before the Cambodian border some of the best panang curry ever tasted was consumed. The Cambodian border was a strange experience with a small “fee” paid yet everyone was happy to be in this new and exotic land.
After a long journey the tourists arrived at the West Siem Reap bus station where a tense stand off with local tuk tuk drivers ensued. Luckily, the genuine transport bus arrived to take the group to the hotel. But that is where the fun would really begin.
Siem Reap was surprisingly built up, looking more like a tourist town in Florida than a remote Cambodian provincial capital. As the tour bus made its way through dark winding streets the boys made it to the hotel. There, Mike and Kyle disembarked to secure rooms. After a long wait Kyle boarded the bus. He explained that our hotel was closed, the owner was a fugitive from Cambodian law and that a neighboring business owner explained he had simply “runaway.”
The club poured into nearby the Khmer Grill for dinner while Mike and Kyle quickly sorted new accommodation next door! Everyone was in high spirits and the bizarre charms of Siem Reap were enjoyed that evening.
Wednesday, September 11th– Angkor Wat and travel to Phnom Penh-Friendly match against Phnom Penh Social Rugby Club
Wonders never cease. While Angkor Wat is wonder of the world it was a miracle that all the boys were in tuk tuks at 04:30 to witness the sunrise over the temple. This was a good bit of cultural respite after floating on an ocean of beer all tour and many visited the equally awe inspiring Bayon Temple. Some of us will never forget the calls of “Brrrrrrrkfast!” by a zealous street vendor.
Weary yet excited Valley left on a coach for Phnom Penh.
Everyone slept the entire way.
The tourists arrived in Phnom Penh and had to quickly run to their rooms and then come back down to play four ten minute halfs against Phnom Penh Social Rugby Club.
On the coach we met Emoline, our charming French ex-pat contact for the Phnom Penh club and Cambodia logistics organizer, to escort us to the pitch. There, the boys found themselves under the lights in the middle of Phnom Penh with huge bats swooping overhead.
The Phnom Penh club was a surprise. Ostensibly a friendly match to be competed by old boys and new players on each side, Phnom Penh was composed of massive South Africans, Frenchmen, Fijians, Kiwis and Aussies. Fijians in Cambodia? Yes. Several.
There were no old boys nor were there new players fielded by our opponents. Just 25 massive and seasoned players to compete against a fatigued and bleary Valley club with only 16 available players, some old boys some brand new. Bobcat was even capped this evening. And yet.
And yet, in a bone crunching four quarters of action the Valley boys dominated for thirty minutes with flowing rugby and brave tackling. Outclassing Phnom Penh until the final eight minutes when the opposition finally ran in some scores to “win”. And yet it felt like a victory for Valley ahead of the looming Saigon competition as the boys played to best of their abilities tactically and strategically. The reception by Phnom Penh was luke warm, yet Emoline later showed some of the boys around town with her friends for a fun evening.
Thursday, September 12th– Free day in Phnom Penh
To a man everyone had a lovely time in Phnom Penh and experienced the culture, markets, restaurants, and bars of this rejuvenated city. For many, Phnom Penh won their enduring affection. Many visited the notorious S-21 genocide museum for a sobering glimpse at the horror endured in this city just 40 years ago. Spirits were lifted by 80 cent beers and 95 cent passionfruit shakes later that day.
Friday, September 13th– Travel to Vietnam and Saigon 10s Pool Party
Nothing happened on the journey today unless you count being stuck at the Vietnam border for four hours and Mike paying a bribe to get the team into the country.
After a grueling 12 hours journey the Roos made a splash at the Saigon 10s “Crazy Pool Party” and some even explored Ho Chi Minh City until dawn.
Formal diplomatic relations were established with the Saigon Geckos women’s side that evening.
Saturday, September 14th– Day 1 Saigon 10s, spasticated
The Valley boys were bolstered by the addition of Travis, Mike’s friend from Hawaii. He was a much needed addition to the backs for the tournament.
The first match of the day found the Roos squaring off against the Palmyra Pirates of Perth, Australia. Weary and slightly off their game the boys squandered two sure try scoring opportunities in the first half and eventually lost to the Pirates three tries to nil. The Pirates were able to capitalize on opportunities when given, yet if Valley had only scored first the momentum may have been unstoppable. Alas. The Perth boys seemed to have the sense that they had dodged a bullet and Valley wondered at what could have been.
Determined to shake off the rough start the Roos bounced back against the Pac Baa Baas for their second encounter. This club had a certain familiarity when the boys realized that this was a Singapore based team as twatty as the Singapore Cricket Club and composed of some them as well. The Baa Baas seemed determined to make as many cheap shoulder charge tackles as possible. The Pac Baa Baas were shameless in their headhunting endeavors. No less than half a dozen penalties were awarded to the Roos and a convincing 17-0 win was recorded over yet another douche laden Singapore side. The Baa Baas later dressed in homoerotic bondage gear for the rest of the day and night.
The final match of the day was another do or die encounter with Tokyo based Team Kamesenryu. Valley had observed this team all day and they played a high tempo game with relentless and swarming attacks at the breakdown. The Japanese team was also, in aggregate, much bigger than the Valley side.
The match was played in front of the main stand and the game was full of big hits and dirty work at the breakdowns. Just before half time Kyle magically intercepted a pass and galloped 40 meters before offloading to Nolan who then flipped the ball back inside to Travis for a scintillating try. One of the tries of the tournament this. Kyle later attempted the conversion but no one knew for sure if it was called good or not.
The second half was a story of Team Kamesenryu pounding the Roos inside their own half. After many superb tackles by Valley the Tokyo boys scored in the corner but missed the conversion. The final minutes were dramatic with Valley holding on to? To win! The players on the pitch didn’t realize it, but Kyle indeed made the conversion. The boys were elated. It felt like we had one the tournament and the team had yet again bounced back from a disappointing first performance.
At the after party the boys donned serapes and sombreros and got spasticated at Freddy’s behest.
Sunday, September 15th– Saigon 10s Day 2, last day of tour
Sadly, the club could no longer field Lumpy and Wee Ian due to injury. Both had played out of their minds the day before yet their efforts had taken a toll and the bill had finally come due.
Valley had the first match of the day against their final pool opponent, the New Zealand Legends, a group of South Island lads from the Otago area. The boys were at breaking point of exhaustion yet took the pitch with the expectation of victory. In a vigorous yet error strewn affair the Roos were in sight of a draw with no time left yet the game was ended on a dubious dead ball call after the referee ruined Kyle’s offload. The Roos lost 7-0 and went 2-2 in their pool.
Yet, due to the heavy competition in the tournament the Roos found themselves in the Cup playoffs. Facing them in the Cup quarterfinals was Nedlands RFC.
Nedlands, a Perth club composed of miners from Western Australia was the best club the Roos faced all day. A hard, classy, and sophisticated group of players the Valley boys lost convincingly yet earned the respect of their opponents.
Interestingly, Nedlands went on to win the tournament defeating New Zealand Legends in the Cup final. New Zealand Legends reached the final by defeating Palmyra Pirates in the Cup semifinals. So, Valley had lost matches only to teams in the Cup semi-finals or Cup finalists.
As word got around that the Valley Kangaroos had not only traveled from Seattle but were also on the last leg of a four country tour, many at the tournament appreciated the boys gritty performance.
Every player stepped up in this tournament yet it was the backline that carried the heaviest load. Freddy, Nolan, and Kyle played every minute of the tournament and the collective performance of the group was superb.
It is hard to explain just what a special tour this was for the group that participated in it. What can be said is that the team competed hard at every match, won the esteem and respect of their honorable opponents, and were true ambassadors for what international touring rugby should and can be. Valley till we die.
Mr. Ian Adams
Mr. Nolan Allen
Mr. Jeff Candler
Mr. John Campbell Clarke
Mr. Greg Dumford
Mr. Andrue Hart
Mr. Frederic Hatton
Mr. Sean LeRoy
Mr. Kyle Matheson
Dr. Frank Merrill
Mr. Michael Merrill
Mr. Brandon Mooney
Mr. Derek Mooney
Mr. Todd Moudy
Mr. Stephen Munro
Mr. Devin Patrick
Mr. Jacob Preimsberg
Mr. Evan Prince
Mr. Tobin Ropes
Mr. Joe Schmid
Mr. Philipp Ulibarri