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Each year, the HKFC Rugby Community in Hong Kong and abroad gathers to pay tribute to our absent friends taken in the 2002 Bali Bombings. This year, the HKFC Exiles – based in London, played against Old Cranleighans.

As rugby weekends go, one would be hard pressed to envisage a better advert for the game. Amidst the drama of Quarter Finals weekend it would be easy to overlook the spectacle that was the Bali Memorial game 2023.

Following last years 5-5 classic, the Old Cranleighans appeared confident in the build up to this years fixture. Their decision to release second row Tim Carpenter for the day clearly demonstrating the depth of their playing squad.

Exiles captain Conor Cole was keeping his cards tight, waiting until just minutes before kick off to announce his starting XV. There had been much speculation in the days before as to the whether the Exiles management team of Cole and McGee would go for the 7-1 bench.

In fact the Exiles match day squad displayed a mixture of youth and experience with replacements available for any position other than front row, as confirmed by Ian Morrison.

Exiles first score demonstrated a statement of intent and clinical execution. A hard won penalty, was kicked for touch setting up the Exiles forwards with their first line out 5m from the OC’s try line.

Veteran hooker Lee Curtis found his man at the back of the line, quick ball off the top, lead to some quick phase play and the exiles forwards dotted over for the first try, duly converted by fly half Ryan Matthysen.

The OCs answered back with a quick try of their own almost immediately from kick off. Despite a forward dominated opening few minutes, the game started to open as the clock ticked higher. Both sides continued to exchange scores ahead of the much welcomed half time break.

Unwilling to leave anything to chance this year, Exiles manager Paul McGee insisted on the appointment of Hong Kong international Lawrence Denvir as referee. An otherwise faultless refereeing performance was let down only by a poor forward pass decision, preventing Exiles utility player Danny Browne from appearing on the scoresheet.

Browne managed to make his mark later in the game with a sublime offload leading to an Exiles score, leading many on the sideline to question whether Brownes talent may have been better utilised in the back three.

The second half saw a more free flowing performance from the Exiles with Gordon the hockey player letting his back line loose wherever possible. Gordo’s fear of contact providing his outside backs with ample ammunition for the assault on the OC’s defence out wide.

Exiles youth recruitment policy over the past year clearly paid off with Callum’s mates from Woodbridge academy providing some much welcome fresh legs. A huge thank you should go to them for turning out, please do come back!

Closer to home three Hamps took the field on the day. The summer training regime was evident when father and son connected via a clearly rehearsed kick pass.

The match ended with a final exiles try, a result of aforementioned youF chasing down a well placed kick from the boot of Matthysen.

As the final whistle blew and a rainbow shone through the blue sky, it was hard to imagine a more fitting tribute to those who passed before us.

Both teams convened outside the clubhouse for fines, and Exiles president Paul McGee spoke briefly on why we were there.

To my mind, 21 years since the bombing one could assume that the personal nexus between those on the field and those in whose name we play, would no longer remain. How wrong this would be.

Of the club players that went on tour to Bali that year, not one came back. The unused Monday off work, the silly post tour email chain, the apologies to the missus and the days sworn off drink (until Thursday training came round) never happened for those lads.

They were not the brave who volunteered their lives. Or members of a distant generation. They were young men on a trip with their mates playing the game they love.

They could have been you.
They could have been me.
And WE could have been them.

We play for ourselves,
We play for our mates, and,
We play, for those who no longer can.

Looking to the future, the exiles squad reached 21 for this years game and the relationship between the clubs has strengthened both on and off the field. Old Cranleighans have expressed their willingness to host next year (and quickly asked for players to help out their second team this week)

On the subject of the fixture next year, the OC’s captain stated clearly the position of the club in his post match speech, “we know this game is important to you, and therefore, it is important to us”.

To absent friends…

Match Report by Danny Browne