Rugby chief says Super Rugby expansion into Asia is right move

Sanzar CEO says interest in Japan for Sunwolves vindicates expansion into Asia

FUN TIME: Sunwolves player John Stewart conducting a rugby clinic for some 50 children from the local Japanese community yesterday. 


With a global pay-per-view television audience peaking at about 50 million annually, the Super Rugby competition has grown considerably in stature since its inception two decades ago.

That figure is set to rise as the marquee tournament makes inroads into Asia and South America, after expanding the number of teams to 18 from 16, with the inclusion of the Japanese franchise Sunwolves and Argentinian side Jaguares.

But as far as matchday attendances go, Sanzar (home of rugby in the Southern Hemisphere) chief executive officer Andy Marinos says the respective national rugby unions must use their know-how to drum up local interest.

"Sanzar's responsibility is to bring in the teams, and to bring the product to the market," he said at the InterContinental Singapore yesterday.

"How the companies here or the entities here connect with the people is part of their market strategy, and they would know their market far better than we would.

"I can't sit with a view out of Cape Town or Sydney as to what will work in Singapore. You've got to work with the locals."

A successful example was the Sunwolves' first game against the Lions in Tokyo on Feb 27, with Marinos calling the overwhelming fan turn-out of nearly 20,000 "unbelievable".

"The matchday attendances have tended to go the wrong way, so it's really positive now to see a new generation or a new demographic coming into the game and supporting it," he said.

CHALLENGE

"I think that's a challenge all Super Rugby franchises have had over the last couple of years."

Marinos revealed that 16,000 tickets have already been sold for the match between the Sunwolves and the Rebels in Tokyo next week.

However, he does not expect such astronomical figures for their "home away from home" games here.

Referring to the unique arrangement for the Sunwolves to play three games at the National Stadium, Marinos said: "I'm very aware that we're probably going to have more empty than full seats.

"But for me, it's about the product on the field and the enjoyment that the people who go to the stadium get out of what they see."

While the Republic lost out to Japan despite a "strong and compelling" bid to secure a Super Rugby franchise, Marinos said a Singapore-based team remains a possibility.

"It's about the appetite of the Singapore Rugby Union (SRU) as well, and the consortium that would work with it," he said.

"I know (SRU president Low) Teo Ping feels very passionately about rugby in this region and he's been a big driving force to make sure that Singapore has its place.

"So, we're going through a process now and we'll look at all markets."

Marinos also noted that future expansion in Asia should be meaningful.

"You don't just expand for the sake of expanding. We want to have a purpose as to why we want to get into new markets and what we want to try to achieve out of that," he said.

"We see South-east Asia as a market that's got a huge amount of potential… to grow rugby at a grassroots level and start getting the people here familiar with rugby."

To that end, Sunwolves winger John Stewart conducted a coaching clinic at Yio Chu Kang Stadium for close to 50 children from the local Japanese community yesterday, while coach Mark Hammett shared tips with the Singapore national rugby team at the same venue on Friday.

Marinos added: "The challenge with the market here is getting it into as many homes as you can. But, we also want to start developing talent from within."

“We see South-east Asia as a market that’s got a huge amount of potential… to grow rugby at a grassroots level and start getting the people here familiar with rugby.”

— Sanzar CEO Andy Marinos (above)

Super Rugby: Sunwolves pay the price for poor second-half

Sunwolves undone by Cheetahs' second-half blitz in Super Rugby's Singapore bow

GIVING HIS ALL: Sunwolves' No. 10 Tusi Pisi making a run with the ball, but his team failed to hold on to their early lead and lost 31-32 to the Cheetahs.

HITO-COM SUNWOLVES 31

TOYOTA CHEETAHS 32

The sun had already gone down behind the closed dome of the National Stadium, but for a while, out on the pitch, the Hito-Com Sunwolves were shining brightly in its place. 

For the first 40 minutes, in what was Super Rugby's Singapore debut, it looked like Mark Hammett's Sunwolves had made themselves at home in Singapore.  

They hunted the Toyota Cheetahs in tight packs, pouncing on every opportunity to score, managing four converted tries, and looked like they were about to post their first win of the season.

 

But, trailing 28-13 at the break, the Cheetahs emerged with a reshuffled forward pack, and fought back sensationally to win 32-31 to deny rookie outfit Sunwolves a win in their second game of the season.

"We made a lot of unforced errors, and that created a lot of opportunities for the Sunwolves, which they capitalised on (in the first half). But it doesn't always help shouting and screaming (during the half-time break), we had a plan and we needed to concentrate on executing that plan," said Cheetahs' coach Franco Smith. 

This was the Cheetahs' first victory after failing to find joy in their first two encounters this season.

Captain Francois Venter paid tribute to his teammates who came on in the second period to secure victory, aided by the fact the Sunwolves had to play the final nine minutes with 14 men, after Ed Quirk received a yellow card and was sent to the sin bin.

"The boys who came out in the second half put their hearts out there tonight, and they really made a difference, we've got to give them credit," he said. 

"But credit to (the Sunwolves) for their first-half performance, they really put us under pressure, surprised us with a few tricks."  

Sunwolves' right winger Akihito Yamada delivered the early blows, scoring a hat-trick of tries to put his side firmly in control. Skipper Shota Horie added another just before the break. 

Neither man could manage even a hint of a smile when they addressed the media post-game, however. Both had their gaze firmly fixed below, lips pursed, clearly hurt by the one that got away. 

SLIPPERY

"We started the second half poorly, made errors that we could've fixed earlier. The ball was slippery too, but we could've also (reacted faster) by changing our standing positions," said a disappointed Horie.

Hammett took some positives from the defeat that still earned them one point in the standings, awarded for losing by less than seven points yesterday.

But the loss still hurt.

"Once the disappointment of the loss goes, we will be really happy with a lot of things," said Hammett. 

"Scoring four tries is something we can be really proud of, and the way we scored them as well. Some of the bravery we saw out there...was really, really positive. 

"But in the final part, we lost the game, and we could've made history."  

Smith was impressed by the Sunwolves' performance. 

He said: "Their coaching staff have done an exceptional job in a short time in getting them organised. 

"I think they're going to be a tough side with a lot of unexpected success in this tournament." 

But that - and even his three tries - was scant consolation for Yamada 

Yamada said: "We need a win to prove the Sunwolves to the world, so no, we have not done that yet." 

The Sunwolves' next game is against the Rebels in Tokyo this Saturday.

Once the disappointment of the loss goes, we will be really happy with a lot of things. Scoring four tries is something we can be really proud of.

— Sunwolves coach Mark Hammett

Fans embrace the Sunwolves

GIVE THEM A HAND: A section of the 8,808-strong crowd at the National Stadium applauding the Sunwolves.

The National Stadium might not have been packed to the rafters last night.

But the 8,808 fans who turned up for a first taste of Super Rugby action in the Republic were treated to a cracking game, with the Toyota Cheetahs coming from behind to beat the Hito-Com Sunwolves 32-31. 

All signs point to fans returning for the next two fixtures that the Tokyo-based Sunwolves will play in Singapore, their adopted second home. 

Japanese fans were screaming from the stands, urging their team to recover from the second-half slump that saw them lose the fixture, which was Super Rugby's Singapore debut.

Among the more vocal ones in the stands were those making their rugby debut as well. 

"This is my first time coming 
to see a rugby game, and yes, I'm here to support the Japanese team," said Japan national 
Chiho Hashimoto.

"I'm kind of struggling to understand the rules, but despite that it's been fun, the atmosphere is good - with the beer," she added, chuckling. 

Singaporean Gideon Luo was equally entertained. 

"I'm definitely a rugby fan, and since they're here, I'm supporting the Sunwolves - Asian pride. 

GREAT JOB

"This is my first time catching a Super Rugby game, and I think the promoters have done a great job hyping it up - it's been great," said the 35-year-old. 

Indeed, the plaudits also poured in from those on the pitch. 

"It's a great stadium and great crowd," said Cheetahs' captain Francois Venter, who led his team to a sensational comeback victory, their first of the season. 

"It's a bit difficult to play rugby in this weather, but brilliant people, great city."

- SHAMIR OSMAN 

It’s a great stadium and great crowd. It’s a bit difficult to play rugby in this weather, but brilliant people, great city.

— Cheetahs’ captain Francois Venter

'It was flattened and stacked, like a sandwich'

30 years after Hotel New World collapse, volunteers at the scene look back

DEADLY: Rescuers digging a tunnel to reach survivors.

It might have been 30 years, but he remembers it like it was yesterday.

Florist Bernard Chiang, then 35, was working at his shop in Lorong Lew Lian at Upper Serangoon Road on the afternoon of March 15, 1986, when he heard on the radio: "Emergency! Hotel New World has collapsed."

Mr Chiang said: "I dropped the flowers I was holding and called my superiors. We were trained for this and we had to help."

At the time, Mr Chiang was the company commander for the Braddell Heights Civil Defence volunteer company, a group of residents trained to respond in emergencies.

After getting his superiors' approval to mobilise his men, he rallied them. Within the hour, Mr Chiang and about 30 men were on their way to the collapsed hotel with their equipment and uniforms.

He recalls seeing the site for the first time: "It really was beyond words.

When buildings collapse, they usually fall to one side but Hotel New World was flattened and stacked, like a sandwich."

30 years after Hotel New World collapse, volunteers at the scene look back

There was no time to waste.

Mr Chiang and his men got to work, helping to clear the rubble, unearth survivors and carry out the dead.

The devastation around them was nothing they had ever imagined but Mr Chiang and his men persisted, staying at the site for a week.

"We were a group of everyday people. I was a florist, some of them were teachers, engineers or even unemployed," he says.

"It was tiring but we couldn't stop - not when we knew we could help."

The collapse of the Hotel New World trapped 50 people, killed 33 and injured 17. 

Mr Chiang and his company were not the only ones who volunteered that day.

Mr Kelvin Tan, 51, was then serving his national service as an instructor at the school of combat engineers.

When the six-storey hotel collapsed, Mr Tan's commander asked if anyone wanted to help.

Almost on instinct, Mr Tan volunteered. Although he was told that he could only go at night and had to come back for training during the day, he accepted.

Mr Tan says: "I did not get much sleep but the decision was obvious."

Survivor Christina Phua Chiou Fang (above ) being rescued. 

RUBBLE

Together with a friend, they helped to clear the rubble, transport resources to the rescuers and reassure relatives of the injured.

Mr Tan says he was disturbed by what he saw. "Seeing all that destruction in front of my eyes was indescribable," he recalls.

"They let me in because of my uniform but around the cordon, I could see people waiting for their relatives who could be trapped. It was really sad."

Men from the SAF taking a break. ST FILE PHOTOS

The collapse of the Hotel New World - which trapped 50 people, killed 33 and injured 17 - is considered to be the deadliest civil disaster in Singapore's history.

Five years after the collapse, construction work for a new seven-storey hotel started and in 1994, the Fortuna Hotel opened.

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Celeb Sports Day raises awareness for disadvantaged kids and youth

Celeb Sports Day raises awareness for disadvantaged youth

Actress Rebecca Lim (above) looking to score a shot for her team.

It was similar to a typical school sports day - captain's ball, tug of war and track and field races - except that the participants were well-known faces.

The first Celebrity Sports Day saw local celebrities duke it out in two teams.

Held at the OCBC Arena yesterday, some 2,000 spectators turned up at the sold-out event to support the Red and Blue Teams.

Radio personality and host Jamie Yeo, 39, topped the heats for the women's 400m race. She admitted that she last ran competitively during her school days.

"I was in the track and field school team when I was in the US. That made me a bit nervous at first, but I am glad I gave it my all," she said.

COMPETING: (Above) Radio DJ Jamie Yeo taking part in a race. TNP PHOTOS: ARIFFIN JAMAR

"I think it's great for us to be here to play sports and to have the support of so many people. I just wish there was futsal because I like playing it."

But in the end, Yeo did not manage to place in the top three spots for the race.

Not that it mattered to the fans, many of whom had come with banners and signs to cheer on their favourite celebrities. Some even wore team colours to align themselves with their chosen team.

Model-actor Chase Tan, 26, emerged as the overall winner for the 100m race.

He said: "There were so many people who turned up. I'm glad everyone brought out their best and came together to have fun."

Model-actor Chase Tan (above) coming in first during his heat for the 100m race.

Other than keeping our local stars active and fit, the event also aimed to raise awareness for NTUC Income OrangeAid, NTUC Income's community development arm that supports disadvantaged children and youth in Singapore.

And when the dust settled, it was the Red Team, led by actor Tay Ping Hui, who were crowned champions.

Actress Aileen Tan (above) during a captain's ball match.

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