FIFTY-year-old Combined Old Boys Rugby Association (Cobra), now known as Cobra Rugby Club, has many reasons to celebrate.
From a group that used to meet up at the former The Pines (a group of eateries in Brickfields, Kuala Lumpur) or pubs in 1967, Cobra has certainly come a long way.
It runs several tournaments, namely the International Cobra 10s for men, the 10s for ladies and the Cobra 10s Mini Rugby Festival for youngsters from ages six to 16.
Besides this, Cobra handles six teams – Cobra Blacks, Cobra Stings, Cobra Development (Under-19 team), Cobra Venom (women’s team), Cobrats (junior team), and Cobra Legends (veterans team).
It was not always smooth-sailing for this volunteer-driven association. There was a time in the 1990s when it did not have enough members.
“As you may know, I was with Tan Sri Megat (Najmuddin Megat Khas who was Cobra president from 1990 to 1994), among the people who revived the club.
“In 1992, they had already started the International 10s,” recalled Tan Sri Krishnan Tan, who was president of the club between 1995 and 2009.
He added, “The development programme was headed by Col Charlie Wong. We realised that we needed to do something if we wanted to get rugby back on track.
“Schools were not producing players and players were not coming out for tournaments. So looking at that, we realised that there was a fundamental problem.
“Many schools don’t have a field. If they have a field, they don’t have a coach, so we felt that if we didn’t do something about the grass-roots level, we would not be able to build a strong base.
“So we decided to create and run this programme to teach trainers.
“We brought in coaches from the United Kingdom and started training teachers and students, and there were also competitions. The intake of players began to rise.
“I would say that the development programme that Cobra started has been a tremendous success.
“More than 700 teachers have taken part in the programme and got their Level 1 IRP coaching certificates.
“The number of schools playing rugby has also increased tremendously. This is not entirely our success, but I think we contributed in a big way.
“I believe the development programme has helped promote the interest in rugby. Thanks to the gold and bronze medals that Malaysia won at the SEA Games, the future of rugby will get better.
“At the moment, there is great interest in the game. I like to say that success breeds success, and people like to be associated with success.
“You can see that the standard of Under-16 players in schools has improved. You need a big base to create quality at the top.
“My wish is for the game to be more multiracial. Not many non-Malays play the game. During my time, there were Malay, Chinese, Indian, Sikh and Eurasian players in the game.
“This game has discipline and teamwork. It is a fantastic sport that builds character.
Cobra has also been involved in the 1Malaysia Cobra Youth Rugby Programme since 2014. It is a joint effort with Yayasan Rakyat 1Malaysia and Laureus Sport for Good Foundation.
The initiative aims to use rugby to reach out to young talents in addressing social issues and promoting unity.
Cobra first focused on creating its own club-based junior programme in 2000 but as response was less than expected, it was put aside.
In 2013, the club renewed its effort; the Cobrats programme, aimed at training juniors aged between five and 16, grew rapidly.
Recently, about 250 young and aspiring players were put through their paces by their coaches.
The Cobrats programme is handled by volunteers Annette Andersson and Darryll Sinnappa.
“We divide them into different age groups. Each group has two or three coaches, some of whom are parents,” said Sinnappa, who is Cobrats programme director and the club’s vice-president.
“They are taught handling skills, how to pass, distribute, tackle, defend. They are assessed on physical and other aspects, such as the 50m dash, push-ups as well as attendance.
“Young players between six and eight years old play touch rugby while the older ones play contact rugby.
“Forty girls attended our training session recently and we have one of the biggest turnouts for young girls.
“The most successful player to rise from Cobrats is Ryan Grant who plays for Scotland and the British Lions. He is a pro now and he was part of the 2000 batch,” revealed Sinnappa.
Andersson, who is Cobrats chief administrator and Cobra Rugby Club secretary, said the Penang chapter of Cobra Rugby Club ran a similar programme with around 100 children in attendance.
“As a result of attending Cobrats, some players were picked to play rugby for their schools,” she said.
Sinnappa added that the club supported various homes for underprivileged children by sending them to the training sessions.
“We sponsor jerseys and training kits, and we continue to do this with various age groups,” he said.
On that note, current president Lt Col (Rtd) Tommy Pereira revealed that the club was working on bringing rugby to centres for delinquents and charitable organisations.
“Give them something that is worth their while and more productive,” he said.
Cobra Rugby Club has evaded many tackles for five decades and remains a pillar for all things associated with rugger.