Positive vibes in S'pore despite calls for Super Rugby review
The HITO-Communications Sunwolves were pummelled 83-17 last weekend by defending Super Rugby champions the Hurricanes, amid new calls for a re-look at a competition that is already struggling.
With 18 teams spanning a large geographical expanse from South Africa to New Zealand and Argentina, the gulf in playing standards was illustrated by the Sunwolves' capitulation at the start of their second season in the competition.
Despite an ongoing review of the Super Rugby competition and calls for a reduction of teams coming from former Australian Rugby boss John O'Neill who told the Daily Telegraph last week that the "wheels have come off" Super Rugby, Singapore remains upbeat ahead of the rugby season at the Singapore Sports Hub.
Singapore will host three Sunwolves games starting with Saturday's fixture against the Southern Kings, with the Singapore leg of the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series coming to the National Stadium on April 15 and 16.
"I believe very strongly that Sanzar is committed to an 18-team event and to the Sunwolves being in the competition till 2020," said Singapore Rugby Union president Low Teo Ping, who spoke to local media yesterday, alongside Singapore Sports Hub chief executive Manu Sawhney.
"Some of the critics don't seem to fully understand that it is important for Super Rugby to be inclusive, not exclusive.
"There are marketing and television broadcast opportunities that it will lose out on if it doesn't grow."
"The Sunwolves have stepped up and rejuvenated, with a new coach, too. Give them another season and they will be as good as some of the other teams in the conference."
Indeed, both Low and Sawhney are confident that more Singaporeans will come out when "world-class rugby" descends on the Republic.
"In 2016, we unveiled the inaugural rugby season at the Sports Hub. We were able to attract close to 80,000 rugby fans, which was a great start for us," said Sawhney.
"We aim to break the 80,000 mark of spectators, across the rugby season."
Both Low and Sawhney pointed to clinics conducted by visiting teams for both coaches and kids, as well as opportunities for local teams to play as curtain-raisers to Super Rugby fixtures, as examples of a positive impact of the rugby season.
Having watched the Sunwolves score two late tries in their match against the Hurricanes, Sawhney believes that Singapore rugby fans could be in for a treat this Saturday.
"Whenever a new franchise is launched, it takes time for stability to set in but, if you look at the last 20 minutes of the game against the Hurricanes, they scored two tries and looked like they were getting back - they showed a lot of spirit," said Sawhney.
"They are in the process of getting there and need time... They have an opportunity to win in Singapore."
- SHAMIR OSMAN