Tag Archives: Sri Lanka

Battling Singapore takes its place among Asian rugby elite

The report:

The Straits Times carried a report today on the national rugby team winning promotion to the Five Nations of the Asian Rugby Football Union Championships.

The result means that Singapore will get to play against Asian powerhouses Japan (to date, still the only Asian country to play in the Rugby World Cup Finals), South Korea, perennial arch-rivals Hong Kong and Kazakhstan.

My thoughts:

Although I was really thrilled to read about Singapore’s promotion, I was left disappointed with the report as it lacked all the details which would have given a better idea of how Singapore fared against Taiwan and Sri Lanka in the Division One competition which was held in Taiwan earlier this month. And that is why I am not reproducing it here.

Instead,  here’s my compilation of all the information regarding the Division One competition (external links included) as well as my assessment of Singapore’s chances next year:

Prior to the start of the tournament, one would have been hard-pressed to openly predict that Singapore would earn promotion to the Asian Five Nations (A5N) competition. 

After all, Singapore’s recent results against Sri Lanka and Taiwan have been a mixture of narrow wins and defeats.

However, Singapore’s chances did brighten considerably after China suddenly withdrew from the Division One tournament.

After all, according to the International Rugby Board’s most recent world rankings, China is ranked 44th compared to Singapore’s 48th

(Note: when you consider that China only made its international test debut in 1997, losing 3-33 to Singapore, its current ranking is a frightening indication of how far Chinese rugby has progressed since).

It is believed that China pulled out of the Division One because of passport arrangements into Taiwan. China regards Taiwan as part of China whereas Taiwan regards itself as an independent country.

Still, Singapore’s chances of earning promotion to the A5N was really touch-and-go. Furthermore, Singapore’s 18-24 loss to in a warm-up friendly to a largely expatriate Guiness Cup select XV just prior to the Division One tournament definitely didn’t bring up the optimism levels.

In fact, Singapore narrowly escaped defeat to Sri Lanka in its opening match. Trailing 13-20 with just two minutes to go, Singapore scraped a draw when full-back Gareth Pritchard scored a try and John Forrester converted to force the 20-20 draw.

Thanks to Gary Carbines’ excellent and obsessive blog (http://rugby-international.blogspot.com) on international rugby, you can read the match report here.

Singapore then bounced back from the draw with Sri Lanka to score a 23-22 win over host Taiwan two days later to give itself an outside chance of promotion. Once again, Singapore required a last-minute try to save its skin.

Trailing 16-22 with only just a minute left, Singapore did its second Houdini in 48 hours when it drove back the Taiwanese before hooker Gaspar Tan leapt over the line to score the try. Mohammad Ismail then calmly converted the try to give Singapore the win.

You can read the full-match report here.

But even though Singapore reached the top of the table with its draw and win (giving it a total of eight points), there was still every chance that Sri Lanka, lying second with three points, could pip the Republic to the sole qualifying slot. All the Sri Lankans needed was to beat Taiwan in its last match by two points to shatter Singapore’s dreams.

As such, you can imagine the butterflies in the stomachs of the nerve-wracked Singapore players as they watched the Sri Lanka-Taiwan test from the stands.

But thankfully, all that worrying came to naught and instead, the Singapore team erupted with joy as Taiwan easily defeated Sri Lanka 35-23 (you can read the match report here which also has a nice picture of Singapore skipper Chris Gilbert receiving the Division One trophy from HSBC representative Peter Davies.)

So Singapore will now take its place among Asia’s rugby elite next year.

But to be realistic, it is going to be a mammoth struggle for the Republic to avoid relegation in its first year in the A5N.

Singapore has not played against Japan and South Korea since 1992 and 1994 respectively but the results weren’t pretty. Singapore was hammered 3-120 by Japan at the 1992 ARFU competition and crashed 3-90 to South Korea two years later in the same competition.

And although Singapore has come a long way against Hong Kong since its world-record 13-164 mauling in 1994, it has still not been able to beat the largely expatriate Hong Kong side (it lost 10-12 and 5-25 in 1999, 6-30 in 2000 and 8-26 in 2001).

And although Hong Kong lost to Japan (29-75) and South Korea (24-50) in this year’s A5N, it evnetually finished third by beating Kazakhstan 23-17 and the Arabian Gulf 20-12 (the Arabian Gulf were subsequently relegated after finishing last in the competition).

So unless Singapore can pull off a win over Kazakhstan in next year’s tournament, chances are it will be heading for a drop back into Division One when the dust settles on the A5N.

What I think could be Singapore’s strength though is this never-say-die spirit that it seems to be exhibiting. The fact that the Republic pulled off those two last-gasp wins also attests to a high fitness level which could stand the team in good stead next year.

This assessment aside, Singapore’s promotion means a television treat for local rugby fans. They could get to watch the Singapore tests on television as all the Asian Five Nation matches were screened on ESPN STar Sports (Ch 24) this year. 

I’ll certainly be looking forward to catching all the action on television.

In the meantime, the Singapore Sports Fan sends his heartiest congratulations to the Singapore team for earning promotion. You can find the full squad listed below.

Let’s take it one step at a time – and just savour the joy of promotion first. Cheers to all.

Yours in sport

Singapore Sports Fan

The Singapore ARFU SQUAD

 

Props: Norman Sin, Mark Lee, Nick Dance

Hookers: Gaspar Tan, MD Suhaimi Amran

Locks: Chris Gilbert (Capt), Steve Horsfall, Jeremy Chan

Flankers: Rong Jing Xiang, Andy Bennett, Romi Musa, Jonathan Lee

No. 8: Ben Wheeler                         

Scrum-halves: Tong Chin Hong, Andrew Lee

Out-half: John Forrester                       

Centres: Daniel Thiam, MD Ismail Kadir, Lionel Robinson

Wings: Jonathan Chen, Eric Ng, Pete Williams

Fullbacks: Gareth Pritchard, MD Zaki Mahmood

 

Related links:

 

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

 

24 July: Remembering the National Stadium – Best Memory #5

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Newsflash: Thong En spears down national junior record

Victoria Junior College student Koh Thong En speared his way to a new national junior mark as he finished fifth in the men’s javelin at the 70th Singapore Open Track and Field Championships last Sunday. 

Koh Thong En in action during the 49th National Schools Track and Field Championships (picture courtesy of redsports.sg)

Koh Thong En in action during the 49th National Schools Track and Field Championships (picture courtesy of redsports.sg)

The 17-year-old first-year student threw 54.14m at the Bukit Gombak Stadum to eclipse the national junior record mark of 53.70m set by Akid Chong during the 34th Singapore Junior Athletics Championships in late June.

The event was won by Sri Lanka’s K. H. K Gunathilaka who threw 74.85m. China’s Qin Qiang took the silver with 71.12m while Japan’s Yamamoto Kazuki was third wth 68.01m.

Thong En had already shown signs during the recent 49th National Schools Track and Field Championships that he was capable of hurling beyond the 53m mark when he won the Boys A Division event with a distance of 54.78m.

However, that was achieved with a 700g javelin, the stipulated weight for the A Division Boys competition whereas 800g javelins – the adult standard – were used at the Singapore Open.

If Thong En’s record is ratified by the Singapore Athletics Association, it would be the 18th national open and junior mark to be broken this year (see here and here for a list of the other records that have been broken to date) 

Despite seeing his name wiped off the national record books, Nanyang Polytechnic student Akid Chong still had some reason to smile at the Singapore Open. His best effort of 53.90m, which helped him to finish sixth eventually, is a new personal best and also bettered the existing national junior mark.

The fact that only 0.24m is separating the two young athletes means that Singapore track and field fans could be in for a huge treat the next few times Thong En and Akid come into battle again.

The Singapore Sports Fan extends his heartiest congratulations to Thong En and hopes that he and Akid will continue to set new standards for Singapore athletics.

Yours in sport

Singapore Sports Fan  

Related links:

24 June 2008 – Fields of gold: 14 national open and junior records and counting!

2 July -The SSF Interview: Akid looking to spear national mark next

6 July – And Balpreet makes it 15 (pity thate two others slipped away though)

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Remembering the National Stadium: Best memory #5

#5 When Singapore won its first international rugby title in 20 years  

That was in 1998 when Singapore won the Asian Rugby Championships Plate competition, also known as the Second Division title of the biennial event, by beating Sri Lanka 25-13 in the final at the National Stadium.

If you are a rugby fan, you would understand why that triumph was so precious to Singapore rugby.

It was the first time in 20 years that the Republic had ever won a piece of Asian rugby silverware, and it also came a year after Singapore recorded its first international win, a 21-10 win over Malaysia, in more than a decade (I kid you not).

Before all that, the 1980s right up to the the mid-1990s was a pretty bleak period for the sport, which in turn were a huge contrast to the golden years from 1978 to 1982. 

The Republic had finished third in the 1978 Asian Championships, a triumph that subsequently landed national coach Natahar Bava the Singapore National Olympic Council’s  Coach of the Year Award and skipper Song Koon Poh – arguably Singapore’s best player ever – the Sportsman of the Year Award.

That year also saw Singapore winning the Malaysian Rugby Union (MRU) Cup. Bava and Song then repeated that MRU triumph in 1982. (Note: the MRU Cup was rugby’s equivalent of the Malaysia Cup. It featured the Malaysian state sides, Singapore and a team from the New Zealand Armed Forces based in Singapore in the 1970s).

But it all went to pieces after that as Singapore slumped into a decade-long losing streak on the international stage.

Singapore rugby then hit an all-time low at the 1994 Asian Championships in Kuala Lumpur. That was where the Republic crashed to a world record 13-164 loss to Hong Kong. ( I am not able to confirm if the score has been surpassed since. Can anyone help?)

But things started to pick up when the Singapore Rugby Union (SRU) hired Australian Peter Randall as its chief executive and tasked him to turn the sport around. 

Randall took three years to do that.

By 1998, the cash-strapped NSA had been transformed into a 20-strong corporation operating on a $2.5 million annual budget. More than 4,000 people and 140 schools were also playing the game by 1998, the result of the SRU’s tireless efforts to promote the non-contact versions of the game to non-playing schools and to the public.

But regardless of all this, Singapore rugby still needed that major triumph on the international level to show that it had finally arrived. 

That triumph finally came in the 1998 Asian Rugby Championships.

So, as a rugby fan who grew up on stories of the exploits of Natahar Bava’s men, it was really a moment to savour when national skipper Terence Khoo walked up the National Stadium steps, received the Asian Championships plate and then held it up in front of 7,000 supporters. 

Singapore rugby has lost some momentum and shine in recent years.

Although it successfully defended the Division Two title two years later, Singapore’s ambitions of being one of Asia’s top-four rugby-playing nations in the past eight years has been checked by the emergence of the Arabian Gulf, Kazakhstan (both of whom joined the Asian Rugby Football Union family in 2000) and China.

(Piece of rugby trivia: Incidentally, China made its international debut in 1997 against Singapore. That historic match was held at the National Stadium, by the way, and beamed live worldwide. Singapore easily won 33-3.)

In fact, Singapore was not part of the inaugural HSBC Asian Five Nations competition held in April. The competing countries were Japan, South Korea, the Arabian Gulf, Kazakhstan and Hong Kong. Instead, Singapore is in Division One with Taiwan, Sri Lanka and China.

Singapore rugby is also still undergoing a period of rebuilding after being rocked by that financial scandal in 2005 which saw former SRU employee Sean Lee absconding after siphoning $1.2 million from its coffers. Lee’s whereabouts are still unknown today.

I am certain though that the SRU will find soon itself on steady ground once again under the stewardship of Low Teo Ping, who took over the SRU presidency from Dr Chan Peng Mun in the aftermath of that financial crisis.

But even so, I don’t think Singapore rugby is ever going to match those heady days of the late 90s which culminated in that 1998 win at the National Stadium.

The fact that I got to witness that moment is why that moment is on my list of top five memories of the National Stadium.

Yours in sport

Singapore Sports Fan

P.S: You can read about the history of Singapore rugby here. However, I have to say that I am surprised that the Singapore Rugby Union is only using 1995 as its starting point. Whatever happened to the rich history of the previous decades before that? Why no mention of the 1978 Asian Championships, of Natahar Bava and Song Koon Poh winning the SNOC awards, of Singapore winning the MRU Cup etc? No mention of how Song Koon Poh generated a maelstorm of controversy and earned himself a life ban by joining the Tokkie Dragons, an international group of rebels, to tour South Africa, which back then was still actively practising its aparthied polices and ostracised by the rest of the world? 

Tsk, tsk.

Related links:

23 July: Remembering the Grand Old Dame of Kallang? 

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