COBRA, the most successful rugby club in Malaysia, and who gave the world the 10s format, celebrate their golden jubilee this weekend. Cobra president Lt Col (rtd) Tommy Pereira talks with Timesport’s Fadhli Ishak
QUESTION: How did it all begin for Cobra?
ANSWER: Back in the 1960s, if a Malaysian of normal background wanted to play rugby after leaving school, it was quite difficult.
You either had to join one of the expatriate clubs or a university team. But in the 1960s, there were not many universities or colleges, so many of these young players who used to play rugby during secondary school would find themselves at a loss.
So, a group of rugby fanatics, who were working professionals, cared for these young boys who could not continue playing.
From there, they decided to create an association where anybody could join regardless of which school they were from. This is why they called it the Combined Old Boys Rugby Association or Cobra.
The founding members were all Malaysians. Dr Hui Weng Choon was the founding president and the Cobra 10s trophy is named after him while the late Dr Chan Onn Leng was the architect behind the 10-a-side format, which we introduced the same year (1967).
At that time, rugby was not as popular as it is today. It was mainly played in residential schools and some missionary schools. It was an exclusive sport.
Q: Cobra are celebrating their 50th anniversary this year. What does this mean to the club?
A: It means a great deal to us because very few organisations last that long. We consider this to be a fantastic achievement and we are very proud of what we have done over the years.
Although we are a very small club, we now have a branch in Penang and a sister club in Kuching. We collaborate with a lot of schools and have also signed a number of MoUs with institutions of higher learning.
The people have given us a lot of recognition and respect for what we have done for the sport in this country.
We have always been non-profit oriented... whatever income we make from food and beverage (Cobra have a restaurant at the club premises) sales, we channel back into the sport.
We also depend a lot on sponsorship to conduct our programmes as well as a large group of volunteers.
One such example is (former president) Tan Sri Krishnan Tan who is the chairman of HSBC. He sits on the board of MAS and is the deputy chairman of IJM Corporation Berhad, yet he spends a lot of time at the club guiding us and helping us get sponsors.
He is the main person responsible for ensuring the survival of the club in the past few decades.
Q: Can you explain how you came to join Cobra?
A: I joined Cobra in the late 1980s. I used to play rugby for the Armed Forces. My coach and manager (for Forces) at that time was Col (rtd) Wong Hin Jee. When he asked me to join Cobra, he was already a member.
Soon after that we helped organise the very first international Cobra 10s in 1992. Before that, it was only a local event.
Since then, I have been involved in the Cobra 10s organising committee every year until this year, where we hope to win it for the first time since 2008.
It would be the perfect present for the club, being the 50th anniversary this weekend.
Q: Cobra have been actively developing local talent. What is the direction of the club?
A: We were very happy to see the Cobrats (junior programme) taking off in a very big way since we restructured it in 2013 and did some changes.
We started Cobrats in the 1990s and (Scotland star) Ryan Grant was one of the players who was part of the programme then.
We have over 300 kids from age five and up here at Padang Astaka every Sunday for the programme. This is the future of rugby and the club.
It has become so popular that our branch in Penang, which started with five kids two years ago, has grown to over 150 kids now.
Our vice president Tan Thiam Jin also initiated Cobra Venom, which is one of the first women’s rugby programme in the country, two years ago.
Earlier this year, Malaysia competed for the first time (in women's rugby) at the Sea Games and managed to win a medal (bronze).
Thiam Jin was the prime mover for this project and had served as the selector, coach and manager for that (national) team.
We have also been actively managing and coaching the national Under-19 squad (boys) over the past few years and we had also started the first Under-19 national league in Malaysia.
Q: Cobra have not won the Super League since winning it back-to-back in 2011-2012. Is this because the club are heavily focused on grassroots talent development and women’s rugby instead of the elite level?
A: No, not really. If you look at most of the top clubs in the country, many of them (coaches, players, officials) would have had a Cobra backgroud of some sort.
Either they have come through the Cobra academy or the schools programme and are now playing for other clubs or they had continued their studies and had to play for their universities.
This is one of the reasons why we are not strong as we were before. We are not retaining the same level of quality we had before.
But we do not look at it from a selfish point of view, we are happy to see them continue playing. We take pride in that.
We have, however, started to rebuild the elite squad. The Super League will start a bit later next year and we will try to assemble a squad that will be competitive again.