Editor's note: The following summary of the first match by the Kunming Flying Tigers Rugby football club has been provided by Matt Bowden, with images by Yereth Jansen. If you would like to promote your local sports team on GoKunming, get in touch via our contact form.
Saturday's rugby match between the Kunming Flying Tigers and the Chengdu Pandas was preceded by a bad omen: in this time of severe drought and six-week-long stretches of blue skies and sunshine, the Pandas' arrival was accompanied by rain, forcing Kunming Stadium to cancel the game. Luckily a last minute back-up was found, with Tuodong Stadium offering their top-class pitch regardless of the weather.
The game got off to a solid start with the Pandas facing a great deal more resistance than they had expected from the inexperienced Tigers. As both teams settled into a slow, forwards-dominated game, breakthroughs were hard to come by with some excellent tackling and well-drilled defences. The rain - at one point torrential - induced a number of handling mistakes but neither team seemed to be able to capitalise on these errors.
With the half-time break looming, Chengdu finally managed to claim their first try but were unable to convert the kick. Reacting to this minor setback with increased effort, the Tigers were able to exploit a gap on the left-wing with Rob McElroy setting up Jared Price for Kunming's first ever try. McElroy's immaculate conversion put the Tigers in the lead going into the second half - a scoreline that had the Pandas visibly rattled.
As the rain cleared in the second half there were fewer mistakes and the pressure continued to rise. Chengdu's attempts to break Kunming's defence were frustrated until a well-placed kick was touched down just over the line by one of the Pandas. Another try followed soon after for the Pandas, with their back-line finally opening up space on the wing. Combined with the subsequent conversion this took them twelve points ahead to 19-7.
Instead of hanging their heads, and despite the clock rapidly ticking down, the Tigers responded with unhurried, focused plays, and this soon paid off with Karl Sutcliffe powering through the Chengdu defence and releasing the ball to Jeff Fuller for a well-deserved try.
To kick a conversion from such a difficult angle on the wing was no mean feat, but Rob McElroy didn't let his team down. Trailing 19-14 and with only a few minutes to go until the final whistle, the Tigers managed one more surge towards the Chengdu try-line, from which they were ultimately repelled.
As the final whistle blew the Pandas breathed a huge sigh of relief, while the defeated Tigers still had a great deal for which to be proud. Only five of the Kunming team had played in a rugby match prior to this weekend's game, but now the Tigers are well and truly on the China rugby map, having come very close to beating a much more experienced side.
A post-match ceremony and party was held at O'Reilly's Irish Pub, with referee and fellow Flying Tiger Jerry Fletcher awarding Chengdu's man-of-the-match and Tigers Captain Tristram Barker handing over the inaugural 'O'Reilly's Pu'er Plate' trophy.© Copyright 2005-2022 GoKunming.com all rights reserved. This material may not be republished, rewritten or redistributed without permission.