The Malaysian rugby team taking a selfie during the press conference on May 15, 2014.
KUALA LUMPUR: There will be no room for errors in Malaysia’s bid to capture the Division Two title in the Asian Five Nations rugby tournament in Qatar from May 20-23.
Malaysia are grouped with top seeds Thailand, Iran and hosts Qatar and they start their campaign against Iran at the Al Arabi Stadium in Doha on Tuesday.
Malaysia missed out on getting a spot in Division One after losing two consecutive Division Two finals to Thailand (22-19) in 2012 and Singapore (20-17) in 2013 despite playing at home on both occasions.
“On paper, we should do well. We are ranked second behind Thailand but we’re playing at a neutral ground this time, so it can be touch and go. It will come down to how the players gel and our tactics,” said national coach Lee Nyuk Fah.
“It’s important that we don’t repeat past mistakes. We need to play hard but play smart and not give away easy penalties in the final minutes as we did two years in a row,” he added.
It will be tricky for the Malaysian team as 14 players in the 25-member squad, including the oldest member, 31-year-old Mohd Azam Mohd Daud, will be earning their first cap.
The side will be bolstered by five naturalised Fijians – Aporosa Duwailea, Viliame Veto Tuinivanua, Etonia Vaqa Saukuru, Vatimo Rabebe and Atunaisa Lacadamu Takubu.
However, Nyuk Fah warned that no team should be underestimated and singled out Qatar (ranked fourth) as the dark horses of the tournament.
“We treat every opponent with respect, but Qatar are the team to watch out for. They started in Division Five and have slowly come up the ranks,” he said.
“Their team consists of naturalised European players so they have the obvious advantage over us – size and strength. We’ll have to play it smart, play an open game and utilise our strengths – speed and fitness – to outplay them.”
Captain Mohd Hazuwan Mohamed Zakeri, who is leading the national side for the first time, reckons they have a good chance if they stick to their tactics.
“I think we’ve got a great mix of youth and experience. Everyone on the team brings something to the table and just having come off the Super League and Super Cup I think we’re in good shape fitness-wise. If we keep to our game plan, we’ll give ourselves a great shot at winning,” said Hazwan, who has eight caps.