July 18, 2014
Former rugby player remembers
Rugby is a sport for all shapes and sizes.
Rugby is a game where you must be fit, tough and very fast, said ex-local rugby “giant” Yeoh Cheang Swi, 82.
To keep fit, Yeoh used to run almost 1 km every day.
“We were too poor to buy dumbbells, so we used half a brick and split it into two to tone up our muscles. Later, we used one brick on each hand.”
No chest expander? No worries. Yeoh would improvise by looking around for discarded tyre tubes at motor workshops and used them instead.
And for push ups, he would dangle on strong branches of trees.
“Rugby can be played by players of different sizes (for different positions). Imagine a 90kg player falling on you. When rugby players tackle you, they show no mercy,” said Yeoh, who pointed out that knee injuries are common, especially for forwards.
“The hefty players form the frontliners. Other players include the flankers who must be very fast, but the wingers are the fastest,” said Yeoh, who was given the monicker Speed Merchant.
He emerged unscathed after playing rugby for two decades. “I still have my teeth and my knees are fine,” he quipped.
Yeoh was an outstanding athlete during his student days at Victoria Institution, Kuala Lumpur. His name is etched on VI’s School Honour Board as athletics captain in 1952. Due to his quick feet, he was recruited to join the school’s rugby team in 1948.
Teoh played rugby for the school and Selangor United, which was affiliated to the Selangor (state) team. He was also in the Asian rugby team called Selangor All Blues.
“I played the winger. I was in fifth gear overdrive,” joked Yeoh.
In 1958, Yeoh played for Selangor State 15 (state team) which became the rugby champion in the HMS Malaya Cup final.
“Then, there were 10 Europeans and five Asians, including me, in the state team. I was also one of the scorers,” he recalled. “I was very fast and the rival players found it hard to catch me.”
That same year, Selangor State 15 beat Hong Kong rugby team in a friendly match. “I scored the winning try (or the point to beat Hong Kong),” Yeoh added.
In 1958, the Thailand rugby team also came to play for the King’s Cup (tournament). The Federation of Malaya 15 team, also called MRU 15, won the game that was played at Selangor Club Padang.
“I scored the winning try, too,” Yeoh recalled.
Yeoh is a founding member of the Combined Old Boys Rugby Association which was set up in 1967. It has since been renamed Cobra Rugby Club of Malaysia. Yeoh played for Cobra Club and helped out as a volunteer rugby coach for schools. In 1970, he became a referee and from 1974 to 1976, he was president of the Malaysian Society of Referees Union.
Yeoh’s passion for the game had rubbed off on his four girls who used to play rugby, but his youngest child and only son preferred tennis.
Yeoh is quick to credit his wife, Annie Mong, 77, for her many contributions to Cobra Club. During the rainy season, Mong used to wash and dry the players’ jerseys – all 15 jerseys covered with mud! “I had to scrub the mud stains with a bar soap and dry the washed jerseys,” said Mong, an ex-teacher.
“She helped to design crests and stitched them on small triangular flags (for scrolls) which were given as souvenirs during Cobra tournaments. She also helped to sew torn jerseys. She did all these for the love of rugby,” said Yeoh.
Yeoh loves the social side of rugby. The sport also helps to build friendships.
Yeoh sometimes hangs out at the Cobra Club with old friends. Occasionally, he bumps into other rugby enthusiasts who would greet him with a firm handshake.
Old familiar faces sometimes remind Yeoh of the days when he ruled as rugby hero.
With Peter Koh (left) at VIOBA event in 2015
Yeoh Cheang Swi - A True Victorian