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Regaining MCKK's lost glories not an easy task

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THERE was a period a few decades ago when one of the first things they taught a 13-year-old freshie at the Malay College was to play rugby.

It was one of the four major sports, apart from football, hockey and cricket, at this boarding school that for the first 60 years of its inception had only British headmasters.

It was the last of these expats, Irishman and historian (Datuk) Neil J. Ryan, who introduced the game there in 1956, a few months after he was transferred from Ipoh's Anderson School. Rather late because the school in those days had many British teachers.

Just a year after starting out with a developmental Under-15 team, the school had its first senior First XV, with many of the players still below 16.

Within a short few years the reputation of the MCKK All Blacks had spread far enough to put fear into schools that had dominated the game till then and by 1960 -- just four years after the game was introduced there -- the team became one of the strongest in Perak and the country. The year 1960 was also when the school started its annual home-and-away game with Thailand's prestigious Vajiravudh College, another boarding school that perennially provides players for their national team.

The best year was perhaps 1963 when the school trounced Vajiravudh 39-0 in Kuala Kangsar and also won against the best schools from Sri Lanka and Singapore.

In the national schools sevens, MCKK won almost every year from 1960 to 1966, with both their teams meeting in the final on more than one occasion. At worst, two of their teams would be in the semis.

Ryan retired from the school in late 1965 and not long after, MCKK's rugby standard began its slow decline, the more obvious being recorded from the mid-70s. They lost for the first time against local schools in 1967, not once but twice, the first coming at home.

Losing only one match a year cannot be that bad but not for these boys who lived rugby. In Perak the place at the top during this period was taken over by Sekolah Tuanku Abdul Rahman of Ipoh, another boarding school that was opened in 1957.

Such was MCKK's school's prowess in rugby that so many of its former players turned out for the state and national teams for about a decade from the late 60s. A few outstanding ones played for Perak state while still in school and one -- Sabahan Ibrahim Ahmad, a fullback -- was named in the wider training squad for the national team while only 17. He was discouraged from going only because of the MCE due a couple of months later.

During the 1974 inter-varsity games hosted by Universiti Malaya, four of the six teams were led by former MCKK players.

But that's all in the past. No matter how hard it tried, once even having a Kiwi coach, MCKK has never come close to regaining its position. Not only has it failed to be at the top nationally; many a time the team could not even be the best in Perak.

The old boys later realised that a more comprehensive approach was needed. That was how the All Blacks Revival programme came into being in 2010 under the auspices of the Malay College Old Boys Association (Mcoba).

The third edition of the MCKK Premier Sevens being held in Kuala Kangsar this weekend, participated by 24 teams including three from overseas, is part of the ABR.

The ABR itself is chaired by former national player and coach Zain Yusoff, who is supported by a committee of at least 25.

Kudos to the people involved in organising it and also to the many sponsors too but the ultimate test will be the performance of the MCKK team in the 15 code.

Even if the Sevens get bigger in terms of participation, crowd support, media coverage and sponsorship, the ABR can only claim to be a success when the school's First XV emulate the successes of their predecessors from 1960 to around 1975.

To achieve their targets, the ABR has employed two coaches not from the teaching staff, one a Fijian and the other a Malaysian, on a year-to-year contract from 2012 to train the boys, assisted by at least three others.

- THE writer played for the MCKK First XV and the national champion Perak Schools in 1970. The next year he was in the national Under-23 side and later continued with club rugby.


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