Year of buzz for rugby in Singapore
Novel curtain-raiser announced for Super Rugby clash at National Stadium
The sport's greatest club competition in the world arrives in Singapore on Saturday, when Japan's Sunwolves take on South Africa's Cheetahs in Super Rugby action at the National Stadium.
Clarence Lam is delighted that he will have a part to play in the build-up to the main event.
The former Singapore flanker will be part of the Singapore Legends team that will take on the Japanese Dragons in the curtain-raiser to the Super Rugby clash at the Sports Hub.
With the prestigious HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series to follow in April and the inaugural South-east Asia (SEA) Sevens tournament held in conjunction with the main event and bringing local flavour into the mix, 2016 promises to be a year for rugby in Singapore.
Especially when the World First Singapore Schools Sevens Under-14 Series final and the schools' 15s finals will also feature on the grand stage of the National Stadium.
"(These events are) definitely creating a bit of a buzz now," Lam, 40, said yesterday, on the sidelines of the announcement event at the Sports Hub.
"It's a bit more for the younger generation, especially the school playing kids who aspire to be one of these top stars in the future.
"These are the people they look up to and watch on television week in, week out. Now, you can really rub shoulders with them and watch them in action. It's good for the sport in general."
Lam, who is the manager for the sports facilities group (business operations) at Sport Singapore, believes the Singapore Rugby Union (SRU) could have more ambitious projects in store to further boost the local rugby scene.
"I think the SRU has big plans riding on these two big tournaments that are coming to Singapore," he said.
"(They might also be thinking) on how we can generate a bit more interest not only within Singapore, but also in the SEA region.
"The SRU is definitely spearheading this plan; I'm sure they have something up their sleeves."
Regarding Saturday's curtain-raiser, Lam is looking forward to a match he brands as a "homecoming".
Made up of former national rugby players, the Singapore Legends will feature many from the team that defeated China 33-3 almost two decades ago in the first rugby match at the old National Stadium.
The Dragons will feature regionally- based Japanese players and Japanese expatriates who take part in friendlies against local rugby outfits. They also compete in regional tournaments like the Phuket 10s.
Said Lam: "This group of us have been together since the age-group level, so we know each other really well and it's been exciting to be able to come back together and play together as a team."
Noting the differences in rugby now as compared to when he was still playing, Lam pointed out that the sport has made large strides in areas like sports medicine and sports science.
"The set-up is better, so you know how to manage your injuries better and recover faster. We didn't really have that," he said.
In addition, Lam, who managed the Singapore rugby 7s team that clinched bronze at last year's SEA Games on home soil, acknowledged that the pace of the sport has become "faster".
"There are certain rule changes that make the game a little bit more exciting to watch now, which is good for rugby fans," he said.
Japanese Sunwolves can upset Cheetahs at National Stadium, says Lam
Like all rookie teams, Japanese franchise the Sunwolves are not expected to make any impression anywhere near the top half of the Super Rugby standings this year.
The squad, who were assembled quickly and had less-than-ideal preparation time, kicked off their maiden campaign with a 26-13 defeat by South Africa's Lions in Tokyo on Feb 27.
Their second match of the season will be held here at the National Stadium on Saturday - under an agreement with the Singapore Rugby Union, the Japanese side will play three games at the Sports Hub - when they host another South African side, the Cheetahs.
Former Singapore flanker Clarence Lam believes the Sunwolves have every chance of pulling off an upset against the Cheetahs, who lost 20-10 to the Stormers on Saturday.
RIVALS: The Sunwolves (above, in orange) in action against the Lions on Feb 27. PHOTO: FACEBOOK/SUNWOLVES SUPER RUGBY
"Everybody wrote Japan off in the World Cup and look what happened," said Lam yesterday.
"It's going to be a 50-50 game. Playing here, teams will be a bit wary of the conditions. The humidity will play a huge part in determining who's going to win the match.
"Of course, the travelling (will be an issue) for the players, but they're professional teams so they know what to expect."
In an interview last Friday, Cheetahs coach Franco Smith warned his players that they needed to perform on the road, and that will become more urgent after two defeats at home.
"We need to learn how to travel well," he said.
"My main objective is to keep producing good rugby away from home as well.
"It doesn't matter if it's the Sunwolves first or later in the season.
"Whoever we play away from home, we have to repeat the same intensity and the same intent in our game."
Smith expects a "very tough game" against the Sunwolves, pointing out that all the teams in this year's competition are "dangerous".
"The Sunwolves had an extra week of rest so they will be prepared," he pointed out.
"The week they didn't play might have served them well, especially earlier in the season as it gives them time to sort out a lot of the little mistakes that they made against the Lions."
Lam thinks the Sunwolves, co-based in Japan and Singapore, have the potential to attract a large fan base that can propel them to Super Rugby success.
"They have generated quite a fair bit of interest, not only in Japan, but in Asian rugby as well. Anything can happen," he said.
- AQIL HAZIQ MAHMUD