Thailand sevens head coach Lote Raikabula says the recent Chang Rugby Clinic on Tour 2020 was born out of a desire to “keep the game alive” in the Asian country.
Former All Blacks Sevens star Raikabula was denied the chance to lead Thailand’s men and women into their Asia Rugby Sevens Trophy and Women’s Sevens Series campaigns this month by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Concerned about maintaining the progress made with performances in 2019 — in which the men finished third in the Trophy and women fourth in their Series campaign — the Thai Rugby Union made the decision to put on a series of clinics around the country.
Raikabula led a team of national team players, sevens and 15s coaches and physios, who conducted sessions for coaches, match officials and players in six Thai provinces — travelling to each on a sponsored bus.
“We looked around and looked at ourselves, and pretty much came up with the idea to look after our community, the rugby community,” Raikabula told World Rugby.
“[It was] a great opportunity for us because the danger was, if we didn't do anything about it and we just sat back, we were really nervous that rugby would start dropping from the momentum we created last year.
“So the main idea was go over and keep the game alive.”
‘It’s a different passion’
The six provinces Rugby Clinic on Tour 2020 visited were Ubon Ratchathani, Sura Thani, Chiang Mai, Pathum Thani, Nakhon Ratchasima and Sattahip.
According to the Thai Rugby Union, around 500 participants attended each of the six events.
“[I was] really, really surprised with how big the turn-out was that came to our clinic, especially for the second and third one,” Raikabula added.
“When we looked at it, we had a great following because we were the first sport to go out and do something like this post-pandemic.
“So, I guess the whole country was really excited and really happy to see what rugby is doing around Thailand.”
Seeing the smiles on participants’ faces, from under-fives up to club players and coaches, over the last six weeks has confirmed to Raikabula that he made the right decision in accepting the offer to work in Thailand.
“The local coaching staff, they asked me, why did you come and coach in Thailand?” he revealed.
“I turned around and I said, ‘Well, look at what we've got here’. The numbers that turn out and follow rugby, I’ve never seen it in New Zealand. We don't really show, you know, the feelings of what rugby is all about.
“We tend to hold back, but it is there. Here in Thailand, I'm really, really surprised how passionate they are about the game. And, that's why I decided to stay here for a bit longer, because I've never seen it before.
“And I told the boys that I used to play [with] back at home, it’s a different vibe, it’s a different passion. They really want to do something about the game. So that's really an awesome experience.”