Sports

Sports Hub ready to host 'Champions League of rugby'

The National Stadium is ready to host rugby's equivalent of the elite club football competition - the Champions League.

That was the assurance given by Singapore Sports Hub chief operating officer Oon Jin Teik on the sidelines of a technical briefing to the media yesterday.

The 55,000-capacity National Stadium, opened in mid-2014, will host the Super Rugby match between Japanese franchise Hito-com Sunwolves and South African outfit Toyota Cheetahs tomorrow.

It is the first of three Sunwolves matches that will be played at the venue, which is the crown jewel of the $1.33 billion Sports Hub.

Oon said the stadium, which has drawn flak in the past for the sub-standard state of its pitch, was primed.

"On the preparation side, we treat this event like all other events," he said.

"My colleagues... are 100 per cent on top of this. Venue preparation is at the optimum. We've moved from a very successful Madonna (concert on Feb 28) and then we have to very quickly convert the stadium, prepare the pitch... and move towards this season of rugby.

"For this, we now have, in front of us, the Champions League equivalent of rugby, with world-class club teams, followed by the HSBC 7s (in April)."

Oon also told AFP that the pitch is "extremely safe and extremely playable", but added that "it's not perfect".

The previous pitch was criticised by coaches and players from world-renowned football teams like Juventus and Brazil, who played exhibition matches there.

A rugby match in late 2014 between the Maori All Blacks and Asia Pacific Dragons was also cancelled because of the poor state of the pitch.

A new "lay-and-play" pitch was unveiled just in time for the South-east Asia (SEA) Games last June.

Oon is looking forward to tomorrow's game, which will kick off a partnership with Singapore Rugby Union to help develop the local game.

"This is a special weekend for us because it's the start of a five-year journey," he said.

"Our role and belief are that, with a world-class stadium and a lot of services, we can allow the sport to expand and fully utilise all the services that we have."

- SAZALI ABDUL AZIZ

RugbyUncategorisedSingapore Sports Hub