Rugby men mix it up with Muay Thai training
Singapore 7s men pull out all the stops in quest for gold
Kick, punch, grab and throw, all moves which are outlawed in rugby.
But a series of muay thai training sessions seem to be the way forward for the Singapore men's rugby sevens team.
As they prepare for a gold-medal assault at the South-east Asia (SEA) Games here in June, the players are mixing up their training schedule.
Aside from slogging it out on the field, on some days they do a round of muay thai and, on others, cross-training under the tutelage of former Singapore sprint king U K Shyam.
"It's all relevant to the game," said coach Ismail Kadir, 38, nicknamed "Izzy" by the players.
"Rugby requires explosiveness, power and speed, and that's where the cross -training comes in.
"But you also have to learn how to outmanoeuvre your opponent, and that explains the muay thai."
At the Sports Hub yesterday, the team were taught how to position their body when an opponent goes low for the tackle.
It was their fourth muay thai session over the past month, while cross-training under Shyam has been ongoing since January.
The team have been training every day for the past six months, with a mixture of gym work and on-field training.
Aside from the physical aspect, the players have also worked with a sports psychologist to enhance communication and team spirit, while giving coach Izzy and manager Clarence Lam a better idea on the relationship between players.
"We actually planned the whole SEA Games preparation since last June. We wanted to leave no stone unturned," explained Lam, 39, a former national player.
"We tell ourselves we're going to win that gold medal, but whatever happens, we don't want to wonder what else we could've done."
As the Games near, captain Daniel Marc Chow said the excitement and anxiety within the camp has increased.
Singapore are among six teams vying for honours in the two-day (June 6 and 7) competition at the Choa Chu Kang Stadium.
The tournament will feature a round-robin format and the top two teams will play-off for the gold.
The Philippines are regarded by many as the favourites after finishing fourth at last year's Asian Games in South Korea, while Thailand and Malaysia have always gone toe to toe with Singapore during the Asian Sevens Series the past few years.
Said Chow: "We're getting excited by the day.
"Now that we know the grouping and format, everyone is making the formulations in their heads.
"Some of us are getting nervous as well, especially now that the final 12 (players) have been named. Everyone now knows that it's game time.
"But we're well prepared. Our preparation has been the best that we could have done."
One aspect of preparation that has taken care of itself is the camaraderie - a result of the amount of time the players have spent together.
"The sports psychologist also handed us a table on our team dynamic after the sessions," said Lam.
"The result was, in a word, outstanding, especially given the age distribution of the team. The youngest is 18, the oldest 31.
"The game of sevens is so different from 15s; the guys have to fight for each other.
"It's all about trusting the guy next to you.
"For me and Izzy, we're just lucky to have a group of players who want it more than us."
"After 22 years (since Singapore hosted the 1993 Games), and with this being Singapore’s 50th anniversary, the stakes are really high. We didn’t take long to discuss our target. We’re just going out there to win it — no questions asked."
- Singapore rugby 7s team manager Clarence Lam, on the SEA Games coming back home and their gold-medal target
When: June 6-7
Where: Choa Chu Kang Stadium(Tickets: $10/day, visit www.seagames2015.com/tickets)
On offer: 2 gold, 2 silver, 2 bronze medals (men’s and women’s)
History: 1 bronze 2007 (men), 1 silver 2007 (women)
Milestones: The 2007 Korat Games was only the second time that Rugby 7s was a medal sport at a SEA Games.
Singapore’s men’s team: Daniel Marc Chow (captain), Blandon Tan, Jonathan Lee,
Muhummad Zaki, Naresh Kunasegaran, Max Ducourneau, Bryan Ng, Marah Ishraf, Samuel Teo, Reiner
Leong, Martin Butler, Muhummad Saiful
Did you know?
Head coach Ismail Kadir and team manager Clarence Lam both played for Singapore in 15s and 7s rugby. They were part of the only team to have beaten the Japan side at the 2002 Hong Kong Rugby 7s.
The New Paper’s medal prediction: Gold
The Philippines rank as unofficial favourites after finishing fourth at last year’s Asian Games. But on home soil, expect Singapore to finish in the top two of the round-robin phase and earn a spot in the gold-medal match. With a good mix of seasoned campaigners (Reiner Leong, Daniel Marc Chow) and promising youth (Marah Ishraf, M x Ducourneau), the hosts look a good bet for glory in both the men’s and women’s competitions.
Republic relying on a 'Rocket'
When fans head to the Choa Chu Kang Stadium for SEA Games Sevens rugby in June, they will see a Singapore speedster possibly wreaking havoc on his opponents.
Blink, and you could miss him.
Aptly nicknamed "Rocket" by his teammates, Marah Ishraf Mohd Hoessein is one of the reasons why the Singapore men's team feel good about their chances of gold.
Only 20, Ishraf, who can play either as a fly-half or scrum-half, is regarded as one of the team's main weapons, and a future star of the national 15s team.
June will mark his first major tournament in national colours, but Ishraf isn't fazed by all the hype.
"Yes, I'm a little nervous, because this SEA Games is on home soil, but I'm getting used to the attention; I don't let pressure get to me," said Ishraf, who made his 15s debut for Singapore in 2013.
"I don't know if I'm really a key player for the team as everyone says, but I had a good season last year in the Asian Sevens Series.
"I'm one of the youngest in the team, so there's till a lot to learn.
"They call me 'Rocket' because I'm quite fast. Under 40 metres , I'm probably the fastest in the team."
The former Raffles Institution and Republic Polytechnic student has had a tough schedule to deal with the past three months, juggling both full-time National Service with the police and daily rugby training sessions.
But it is that level of commitment which has impressed team manager Clarence Lam.
"Ishraf missed three months of training because of NS, but he came back even hungrier. He's got the desire to play and succeed," Lam said.
"On the field, he's creative, dares to express himself and is always willing to have a go.
"People are going to notice him at the SEA Games tournament, for sure."
TNP-PUMA SEA Games contest
PHOTOS: Courtesy of Puma
In partnership with German sportswear company PUMA, The New Paper will be giving away PUMA boots to its readers in the lead-up to the 28th SEA Games from June 5-16.
As TNP continues its countdown, we will be giving away two pairs of PUMA football boots - evoPOWER worn by Radamel Falcao and evoSPEED, endorsed by Sergio Aguero, worth $269 and $239 respectively.
Both boots will hit the stores only on May 1, which means our lucky winners will be among the first in the world to own them. To stand a chance of winning the prizes, go to tnp.sg/seagamescountdown and answer a simple question.
E-mail your answer with full name and contact number to npsports@ sph.com.sg by April 23. Winners will be notified about collection of prizes.
48 days to go
PHOTO: ST FILES
48: The 1993 SEA Games was marked by a 48-hour torch relay, which was started by then-Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong at a ceremony at the Sentosa Musical Fountain on June 10.
The torch was handed over to 1960 Olympic weightlifting silver medallist Tan Howe Liang as well as representatives of the participating nations.
It was passed to the late athletics star and coach Tan Eng Yoon to begin the first leg of a 500km journey that passed through all the constituencies.
It involved 70,000 runners, before culminating in the much-anticipated lighting of the cauldron by bowler Grace Young on June 12.
The late Singapore President Wee Kim Wee then opened the Games in front of a 45,000-strong crowd at the old National Stadium.
The opening ceremony featured mass displays, fireworks and musical performances.