Singapore rugby: Too many expats spoiling the broth?

The reports:

These two reports appeared in yesterday and today’s edition of TODAY:

Rugby team in turmoil (TODAY, 31 March 2009)

Nine players sit out in protest over training issues


By Loh Lin Fhoong


SINGAPORE’S preparations for Asia’s elite rugby tournament, the HSBC Asian Five Nations 2009, have been thrown into disarray. Nine local players from among the30-strong national rugby squad failed to turn up for a training session last Thursday.


Today understands the players failed to turn up last night as well, leaving just 17 expatriate players and four Singaporeans training for next month’s tournament.


The team is coached by Danny Tauroa and Harry Woods.


It is believed the nine players are unhappy over training issues, and they now risk missing a friendly match with a Singapore select team (comprising players from local clubs) on Saturday.


Last year, the national team were crowned champions of the ARFU Rugby First Division, after a draw against Sri Lanka and one win over Chinese Taipei.


The victory meant they qualified for the continent’s top tournament, the HSBC Asian Five Nations 2009, against Japan, South Korea, Kazakhstan and Hong Kong.


Singapore kick off their Five Nations campaign on April 25 against South Korea at Tancheon Sports Complex, before hosting Kazakhstan at Yio Chu Kang Stadium on May 9 and the controversy could deal a crippling blow to the team.


Today understands the nine players wrote a letter to SRU president Low Teo Ping yesterday. When contacted last night, Low said: “I don’t know anything about this (incident), but when it comes to the time, I will have to resolve it.”



Singapore’s HSBC Asian Five Nations 2009 schedule:


April 25: Korea v Singapore (Tancheon Sports Complex, Seoul)


May 9: Singapore v Kazakhstan (Yio Chu Kang Stadium)


May 16: Hong Kong v Singapore (Hong Kong Football Club, Hong Kong)


May 23: Singapore v Japan (Yio Chu Kang Stadium)




Rugby probes player sit-out (TODAY, 1 April 2009)

Low says he has received letter from ‘unhappy’ national team members


By Low Lin Fhoong


A DAY after Today reported that nine local players from the Singapore rugby squad had missed training due to unhappiness over certain issues, the Singapore Rugby Union (SRU) have stated that they are investigating the matter.

Nine players from the 30-member national side — which is coached by Danny Tauroa and Harry Woods — skipped training last Thursday and also failed to turn up for a session on Monday.


With 17 expatriate players and four locals left in the squad, the team’s preparations for the HSBC Asian Five Nations 2009 tournament, the biggest international rugby competition on the continent, have been thrown into disarray.


Singapore will kick off their opening match away to South Korea on April 25.


In a statement issued by the SRU yesterday, chief executive Ian Bremner said: “Singapore Rugby Union confirms that a group of players have failed to report for national team training and have outlined concerns in a letter to president Low Teo Ping. The issues raised in the letter will be given due consideration after which a further statement will be issued. No further comment from SRU will be made until that time.”


Today was not granted access to the team’s coaches or players during a visit to the SRU’s Toa Payoh office in the morning, and at their training session in the evening at St Andrew’s. Bremner reacted strongly to this reporter’s presence on both occasions, and refused to grant permission to Today and Channel NewsAsia’s photo and film crew to shoot the team in training.


When contacted, rugby chief Low Teo Ping acknowledged that he had received a letter from the players and he said: “I’ll definitely be looking into it, and will give it due consideration and investigate it … we’ll issue a statement after that.

Despite the current sit-out by the nine players, Low stressed that preparations for the Five Nations tourney remain on track.


“No, this doesn’t affect preparations for the Asian Five Nations,” he said. “Everybody has a right of appeal and we will look into the complaints and grievances and take it from there. This happens in sports all the time. When people come together, they’re bound to have differences. We’ll find out what the issues are and hope to resolve it as soon as possible.”


Singapore earned a promotion to the continent’s elite competition after topping the ARFU Rugby First Division. After South Korea, they will host Kazakhstan at Yio Chu Kang Stadium on May 9. It will be followed by a match away to Hong Kong on May 16, before the final game against the mighty Japanese at home on May 23.

My thoughts:

At first glance, it’s pretty easy to conclude why the bulk of the  local players in the national rugby squad have decided to boycott training sessions in preparation for the Asian Five Nations tournament coming up later this month.

Just do the math: There are nine local players who have not turned up for training. According to the Today report, only 21 players trained. Of this 21, 17 are expatriates while four are locals.

So, even if the nine players do return to the fold, it means that out of the training squad of 30, MORE THAN HALF of the players are expariates who have fulfilled the International Rugby Board’s residency rules to play in the A5N.

This is a worrying sign – it means that Singapore rugby has now crossed a certain threshold in the combination of foreign ‘talents’ and local  players in the national team. 

Now, even though this may not be the final squad ( I am unsure how many they have to eventually register for the A5N), will you be willing to bet your final dollar that there will be more local players than foreign ones in the end?

I wouldn’t be so brave.

It also means that increasingly, the national rugby team is starting to look like the farcical sides that Hong Kong have been fielding for international tournaments for a long time. Meaning, the number of foreign players far outnumber the locals. In fact, I remember a time when the HK sides only had one or two local players in the squad.

This is not a good situation for Singapore rugby.

In my prevous posts, I did say I was fine with having a foreigner – in this case, Chris Gilbert – as national rugby skipper, especially if he has shown that he can inspire and lift the side at the crucial moments.

I was also fine with the number of foreign players that formed the national squad that took part in the ARFU first division tournament last year. After all, you do need some extra bulk to do battle in the field. 

Out of the 24 players in the squad then, nine were foreigners. So the ratio of locals to foreigners was still a pretty bearable 2.5:1.

But it seems that the Singapore Rugby Union is going further and further down the foreign player path. Why so? So that we stand a chance of doing slightly better in the A5N and avoid relegation as wooden spoonists?

If so, then my question to the SRU is this: Then what about local development? 

At the end of the day, what is the mesage you will be sending to the hundreds of aspiring local young players who dream of pulling on the national jersey one day?

That the number of places available to them will always be limited because Singaporeans don’t have the physique that the foreign players will have?

I am not going to go on a nostalgic trip and say “Remember the 1978 Singapore rugby team which finished third in Asian, its best performance to date, despite having an all-local squad!”

But I must say that I am surprised that Low Teo Ping, president of the SRU, was reportedly caught unaware by this situation. Or was the long-time championof local talent caught unaware by only the rebellion of the nine local players?

If it is the latter, then this is truly disappointing.

For the sake of Singapore rugby, I hope the SRU can solve this issue soon.

And to the nine local players who are rebeling at the moment, if things do work out and you find yourselves selected for the national team, please make sure you die for your country out there, regardless of the result.

Only then can you silence your critics who will be eager to pounce, and show them that local pride still has pride of place in a brutally physical sport like rugby.

Yours in sport

Singapore Sports Fan 

Related links:

1 Dec 2008 – Singapore at the Asian Rugby C’ships – an alternative view

26 Nov 2008 – Battling Singapore takes its place among Asian rugby elite

22 Sept 2008 – A toast to our rugby heroes of ’78 – and to some fundamental principles of sport

27 June 2008 – Low Teo Ping – the last action hero of Singapore Sports


9 thoughts on “Singapore rugby: Too many expats spoiling the broth?

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  3. matt says:


    Some of the local boys that walked out (also called having a hissy fit) are luck to make their clubs 1st grade team – let alone the national side.

    And the main child driving the push? the national team captain… what a joke.

    Please also note these facts.
    1) the team performed much better without the ‘men’ that walked out.
    2) you could fill 3 teams of expats from the Singapore comp that would beat the best 15 locals time after time.

    To those spineless guys who walked out, grow up.

    • chemical ali says:


      These kind of statements warrants your legs to be broken in some parts of Singapore so you better watch what you say as this issue is already done and dusted if you haven’t noticed. Saying this is the best result Singapore can get is absolutely baseless as:-

      i) This was the worst score Singapore achieved against HK since 1994.
      ii) We have beaten Kazakhstan before and failing to beat a half strength Kazakhstan team filled with expats is unacceptable.
      iii) Having a respectable score against Japan who rested more than 70% of their first XV lineup against us. Still we got smacked by 30 points!

      All this with 3/4 of the team dominated by expats so what on earth are you talking about? Get your facts right.

      In fact, an idiot like you should worry about your very existence in this country as you could be shipped out anytime by your (or soon to be ex) employer instead bothering with such trivial matters.

  4. matt says:

    excuse me?

    Is that some sort of threat? if so, lets investigate further?

    And here we go, defensive and more than slightly arrogant local pulls out the ‘send you home card’ once again. Classic.

    Champ, I am a citizen, run a business that employs 200 people (all locals) and pay taxes to OUR government. So how about you get you facts right.

    The truth is, as someone mentioned above, SG stepped up a division and was well and truly out of its depth – Most of the Kaz and Korean team now play professionally and would have creamed us no matter who was on the pitch.

    For the record tough guy, I actually agree that some local boys dont get a decent go because of narrow minded coaches. I see blokes all the time at club level who should be playing 1st Grade but rarely get a shot.

    My point is, before you turned it into a race issue, is that SOME (not all) of they boys who walked out are miss guided and were lucky to be in the squad. They turned it into a race issue, not the coaches or expat players.

    Also, I agree that some of the expats shouldn’t have been in the team. On watching the Korean game our 7,10 and 15 looked like school kids…..

    But, for senior players to lead a walk out is amazingly sad for the spot in general.

    Anyway, sounds like the national team is headed for a ‘quota’ system like South Africa…will be interesting.

    The good news is some of the local boys coming through are decent players.

    Now, back to your leg breaking comment…

  5. singaporesportsfan says:

    Hi guys

    Thanks for the debate which has churned out more interesting facts and good observations from both sides about the state of rugby in Singapore.

    Let’s keep the discussion civil and cordial.

    I am aware that emotions can run high and get quite heated when it comes to discussions about using foreign players at the expense of locals, and it is easy to let fly from the keyboard.

    However, let’s stay away from making comments that can come across as threats. It doesn’t add to the discussion.

    Thanks once again

  6. matt says:

    Agree, peace.

    Lets grow Rugby (the greatest sport of all) in Singapore (one of the worlds greatest cities and cultures) together…

  7. singaporesportsfan says:

    Thanks, Matt


  8. rags says:

    Hi all,

    I’m a Singaporean, rugby mad. Played schools rugby in Singapore and at uni in England. Fair play to the expat guys like Matt who want to play for Singapore, they want their shot at international rugby, so be it. They are doing their best and we must give them credit for it eventhough they are competing for places against our local boys who have not had the same exposure and culture of rugby excellence that the expat players have been exposed to in their home countries. Problem with a largely expat team is I dont think this is particularly healthy for the long term interest of the game in Singapore.

    The local schools scene is vibrant. What the powers that be need to do is to ensure a strong world class investment in youth development and raise the standard of our local players as well as our leagues so that we have our own local culture of rugby excellence. That must be the priority and focus and I believe the foundation has been laid to some extent with the formation of the SCNRA. It requires long term planning and investment with cooperation from local sponsors and government. Japan did it, so can we.

    The expat guys are very much an important part of this process and they can play club rugby and provide stiff competition to our local boys. The best handful of them, who are citizens, can, if they have the desire, join the local lads to form a strong team. In years to come, we will have a strong local based squad and we may be have a handful of good caucasian/pacific islands players to join and augment the team like the Japanese have done. This is the way to go to taste real international success. Lets enjoy this process of making our National team a top 3 Asian nation with a strong local core group of players who may one day grace the World Cup. I believe we have the raw material to work with and that this can happen in 10-15 years’ time if the SRU has the will.

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