Singapore in Japan's top rugby flight?
SRU chief Low says Singapore could play in Japan's top flight in future
Japan's stunning 34-32 win over two-time winners South Africa at last year's Rugby World Cup was hailed by many as a sign of the progress Asia was making in the sport.
But the Cherry Blossoms (17th) are the only Asian side currently among the top 20 nations in World Rugby's rankings.
Speaking on the sidelines of a Rugby Business Conference at Novotel Clarke Quay yesterday, Asia Rugby chief Koji Tokumasu said the only way for other countries in the region to bridge the gap with the world's elite nations is to play regularly in high-level tournaments.
"Realistically speaking, the reason Japan were able to beat South Africa was because we have regular domestic tournaments," he said.
"If (Singapore, world No. 33) wants to become an elite union, you need a (strong) domestic tournament or regular international tournaments to test yourself.
"For example, Japan has the Top League. In the future, maybe Singapore could join the Top League (to have) regular tournaments... If you cannot make it in your country, you can think of contesting in tournaments with your neighbours.
"You have to try aim to play with the better teams. Otherwise you can never get better."
Tokumasu added that, in the meantime, tournaments like the South-east Asia 7s taking place this weekend as an accompaniment to the elite-level HSBC World 7s Series at the National Stadium, was a "great idea" to help drive participation in smaller rugby nations.
Historically, the Top League has never featured a foreign team, but Singapore Rugby Union (SRU) president Low Teo Ping says the Republic could be the first.
The SRU has a close relationship with the Japan Rugby Football Union (JRFU).
Last October, the JRFU's Sunwolves outfit pipped the Singapore-based Asia-Pacific Dragons to become the first Asian franchise to play in the prestigious Super Rugby competition.
But the two national bodies agreed the Sunwolves would play three "home" games at the National Stadium in Singapore.
"We may break that (no foreign team in the Top League direction)," Low told The New Paper yesterday.
"We are co-hosting the Sunwolves here in Singapore, so there ought to be some reciprocity. The door is not fully closed (on the possibility)."
On the sidelines of the conference yesterday, outgoing World Rugby president Bernard Lapasset also said the growth of the sport and stature of national teams in Asia are key to the organisation's vision of making rugby one of the world's leading sports.
"Asia is the most important region for us in the world," said the 68-year-old, who will step down next month to spearhead France's bid to host the 2024 Olympics in Paris.
"The population in Asia is very young and we have to deliver a good message (for rugby) and a choice... We want rugby to be one of the (big) sports for the next century."
Lapasset expressed confidence that Asian nations can make great strides in international rugby in the coming years.
"I'm sure they will be coming (up) soon," he said.
"Because when we offered the strategy for the new 7s in Singapore, we offered a new place for development in this part of Asia.
"I'm sure new coaches will be coming from Europe, from the Southern Hemisphere... (These) people will be involved in the process to (make rugby in the region more) professional.
"Because the quality is not just in the quality of the game itself. It's in the preparation of the player to become professional.
"It's not the case at the moment in Singapore and some other countries, but you will be coming soon.
"It was the way in different parts of the world before. It's now time to do the job in Asia."