Rugby head Low to boost national teams
SRU chief Low plans to use money from recent marquee events to develop national teams
It all began when the Sunwolves, playing in their very first "home" Super Rugby fixture at the National Stadium, suffered a narrow defeat by the Cheetahs two months ago.
A month later, the 55,000-seater Kallang showpiece played host as surprise packages Kenya claimed the Singapore leg of HSBC Sevens World Series, which attracted just under 50,000 spectators over two days.
On Saturday, the Sunwolves take on South African side the Stormers in their third and final "home" game at the National Stadium, capping off Singapore's very own season of rugby.
While these marquee events have created a buzz and raised awareness of the sport, Singapore Rugby Union (SRU) president Low Teo Ping said the next step is raising the standard of the national rugby teams.
"The next thing that we have to do is to build up our own playing standards here in Singapore," he said at the National Stadium yesterday.
"We have just embarked on a new vision that we intend to roll out, and we also have put together a high-performance committee that's going to look at how we can build around these events.
"These events cannot be held in a vacuum; they definitely have to benefit rugby in Singapore."
The money that comes from holding these events will be used to develop the sport through overseas training camps and friendly matches, Low said.
"We have built up quite a nice cache of cash which we will eventually use for rugby development at the national level," he said.
"These events add to our funds, and when we build up enough financial strength, we can use that to achieve exposure on our own terms."
Besides building on the current collaboration between the Sunwolves and the national team, Low is also keen to explore other options.
"At the national level, we have plans for our sevens team to go to Fiji soon," he said.
"Fiji is a very active participant in the sevens here in Singapore, and we intend to use that opportunity to develop certain techniques with the Fiji Rugby Union."
Low, who also revealed plans to launch an annual inter-school sevens tournament this year, hopes to see these measures bear fruit.
"We will use next year's SEA Games as one benchmark, and we definitely want both the men and women's teams to go for gold," he said.
"It's all very nice to host good events here, but let's play some good rugby too.
"Hopefully, down the road, we can do better at the Asian Games."
Tough test for rugby women
In another first for the National Stadium, the national women's rugby team will face Hong Kong in a full international Test match on Saturday.
The clash is the curtain-raiser for the Super Rugby game between the Sunwolves and the Stormers, and is vital for both teams as they look to improve on their rankings ahead of next year's Women's Rugby World Cup.
National women's team coach Wang Shao-Ing knows what a win over their more illustrious opponents would mean.
"The longer-term impact is that this gives us a good indication of whether we can compete at the top tier of women's rugby in Asia," she said yesterday.
"We're currently ranked sixth (in Asia), so this is a good opportunity to pit ourselves against the top three."
While Singapore is ranked 9.04 points behind Hong Kong in the world rankings - official Asian rankings list the top six teams in the region as Kazakhstan, Japan, Hong Kong, China, Thailand and Singapore respectively - Wang recognises the gulf in quality between the two sides.
"When we first started playing in the Asian Series in 2006, we were not very far apart, but as the years have gone by, the top three teams have pulled further ahead," she said.
"Hong Kong are very serious about making the Women's Rugby World Cup; they have a six-month 15s league and 13 full-time players on their team.
"That shows the amount of resources they are willing to plough into women's rugby."
For Wang, a defeat this weekend would not be disastrous, especially as it would be her team's first international Test match in two years.
"I don't think we are focusing on the outcome, what we're really looking at is our processes. We have a new attacking framework and we feel this is a good opportunity to test that out," she said.
"We're pretty much looking at the things we've trained for, and whether we're able to execute that under pressure."
- AQIL HAZIQ MAHMUD