Exiled Bath Rugby League player – playing Rugby in Brunei

Lewis Atkinson is currently playing Rugby Union Brunei having previously being a regular player with Bath Rugby League in the 2017 debut season, he also played union locally for Corsham. When Lewis has been back in the area visiting family in the last couple of years he has always tried to fit in a Rugby League game, his visit back to the UK is usually end of May bank holiday and was a welcome addition to the Westbury 10s event where the club finished beaten finalists. Lewis is nicknamed ‘Tank’ but has also had the nickname of ‘mini-tank’ when the club had two ‘tanks’ in the squad.

Tell us how playing representative Rugby in Brunei came about?

As I have always had a keen interest in Rugby since 2003 and played at various levels during my time in the UK, I jumped at the chance to carrying on playing rugby for a local team when I moved from the UK to Brunei. I currently play for The Flying Kukris which is made up of mainly British Military personnel.  With the Flying Kukris I have been involved in various 7’s, 10’s and 15’s tournaments. At the end of 2017, after playing in a 10’s tournament, myself and a couple of my team mates were approached by the Head Coach for the Brunei National Team. He had seen us play in various tournaments and invited us to join the national trials they were holding to build a team for their 2018 international tournament. The trials were split into two parts – a skills / fitness session and a match between all the trialists. After this an initial squad of 40 players was announced which I was lucky enough to be part of. From there I spent several months training hard and playing various warm up matches vs local teams from Brunei and Malaysia to prove to the coaches that I should be selected. The team was cut down from 40 to 30 a couple of months before the tournament and then cut down once again to a final squad of 23. A couple of weeks before the tournament began the starting 15 was announced and I was shocked and honoured to have not only have made the final 23 man squad but also to have been selected in the 1st XV as hooker.

What was your debut like?

My debut match was against Guam, who are a very strong team. We were presented our match shirt a few hours before kick off which is when it first hit me that I was playing for a country at an international level. It is a moment I will personally never forget. Even though I wasn’t playing for my own national team the experience and the atmosphere when standing in the tunnel beforehand and during the national anthems was breath-taking. Unfortunately for me the match itself started off in a bad way as my foot/ankle gave way in the first tackle I made (found out a week after the tournament that I had actually broken a couple of bones in my ankle). I had my ankle strapped up tightly and committed myself to the rest of the match. Due to the USA military base in Guam their team was made up of a high proportion of American players. They were a very well drilled team with strong runners and a very good back line with their 10 being their stand out star player. The experience of the game and my pride in my own performance given the circumstances are something I will never forget, even if the result was not in our favour.

How many caps do you have?

I currently have 2 caps to my name for playing with Brunei. One against Guam and one against China. I was hoping to pick up another couple of appearances in May 2019 but the tournament was unfortunately cancelled as Mongolia, one of the teams involved, pulled out. There were plans to re-organise the tournament for April 2020 but this was again cancelled due to Covid-19. I am hopeful that I can earn a few more caps whilst I’m still here living in Brunei.

What is the standard of rugby like in Brunei?

Brunei is a small country from which people much prefer and prioritise football. When I first moved here I thought there wouldn’t be much rugby if any at all. However, there are a few local teams which contain players of reasonable standards. There are also a high number of expats from strong rugby countries such as Australia, New Zealand and Fiji living in Brunei who have grown the rugby playing community and who play at a high standard – for example I play and have played alongside a few former / current Army players. The league formats here are different to the UK with the 15’s league being played over a short period with fewer teams usually resulting in 2 games per weekend. The rest of the year is filled with various friendly matches played against teams from Malaysia and 10’s / 7’s tournaments.

What is the Culture generally like in Brunei?

The culture over here is generally relaxed and the Bruneian people are kind. It is a very hot and humid country with temperatures usually ranging from 30-35 degrees so that took some time to get used to especially when running around and playing Rugby. Brunei is a Muslim country and is therefore dry (no alcohol) but, as I live in a British Military community, we do have places we can go to grab a pint or two. It’s a quiet country and a great place to live, especially if you use it as a hub to travel around the rest of Asia.

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