THE All Blacks are coming back in a big way. No, not the famed New Zealand rugby national team but the Malay College Kuala Kangsar (MCKK) rugby boys.
Sharing a moniker with the world’s dominant rugby team could prove difficult to live up to at times and certainly there has been little for MCKK, the once dominant rugby school in the country, to celebrate over the past two decades.
Unable to bear the slide in rugby standards and after taking more than little blow to their pride, a group of MCKK old boys decided enough is enough.
In little more than a few months, an idea mooted to restore the prestige once attached to Perak’s royal town of Kuala Kangsar will become a reality next month when the MCKK Premier 7s rugby tournament comes to life.
The Feb 26-27 tournament is the brainchild of the All Blacks Revival (ABR) subcommittee of the MCKK Old Boys Association (MCOBA) and what better way to begin the long road back up to the pinnacle than to return to the grassroots.
“The ABR came about because we were concerned about the declining standard of rugby at MCKK,” said former national coach and Premier 7s joint organising chairman Zain Yusoff when met at the MCOBA Building in Kuala Lumpur on Friday.
“MCKK used to be synonymous with rugby but these days you find unheard of schools from districts where no rugby was played before becoming champions.
“There are many factors why MCKK has fallen behind in rugby and we are working on ways to overcome that. The fact that there are more rugby-playing schools around has made the sport much more competitive.
“We also have not necessarily had the support of the teaching staff previously despite few among them are even qualified to coach rugby.
“We are also facing a battle with parents who view the sport as violent and discourage their children from playing when rugby is probably one of the safest sports around.
“I mean, injuries do happen but that occurs in any contact sport.”
More than just a school, MCKK is an iconic institution with a 106-year history and has produced several national leaders in a wide variety of fields.
In sport, MCKK athletes have gone on to represent the country in athletics, rugby, cricket, football, hockey, tennis and bowling but it is rugby, the gentleman’s sport, that is closest to the heart of the Old Boys.
Zain is one of two national rugby coaches from MCKK — the other being Shahid Mahid — while former national captain the late Datuk Aziz Ismail was also from the school.
The Premier 7s, which Zain envisions to be an annual affair, is only the starting point of the hoped-for revival of rugby at MCKK and the support they have received has convinced MCOBA that they are on the right track.
“Success starts by winning tournaments but they are not going to win anything unless they are given exposure as much as possible,” said Zain, 66, still as passionate about rugby since leaving MCKK almost half-a-century ago.
“We’ve developed a programme where the team can reap benefits and 30 players each from Form 1 to Form 5 are being trained.
“The whole school is now involved and even they don’t move on as players, they could still become coaches and administrators.
“The whole town is excited because while many have heard about MCKK’s glorious rugby years, many still have not seen it. We mooted this idea partly to bring rugby back to the people of Kuala Kangsar.”
A group of former MCKK students called the “Merdeka Boyz”, because they graduated in 1957, donated the N. J. Ryan Challenge Trophy named after Datuk Neil Jonathan Ryan, an Irish teacher who introduced rugby to the school in 1956 and went on to become the school’s coach and principal.
Zain said 23 schools, including traditional rivals Vajiravudh College from Bangkok, have been invited for the tournament, which is restricted to premier rugby playing schools.
“We have invited 23 other schools but many more have asked to be included when word leaked out that we are organising this tournament,” said Zain.
“That is why we have restricted the teams to premier schools because we need to maintain a certain quality for the event. Naturally, being the host comes with the expected pressure of emerging champions but more than that, we want all the teams, when they leave, to have the feeling that they want to come back next year.”