Rugby: 1997 national rugby team reunites for Sunwolves curtain-raiser

Some might have larger waistlines and others thinner hair but the passion and enthusiasm of the Singapore rugby team of 1997 (below, against China) were in evidence when they met last week (above).
Some might have larger waistlines and others thinner hair but the passion and enthusiasm of the Singapore rugby team of 1997 (against China) were in evidence when they met last week (above).PHOTO: SINGAPORE RUGBY UNION
Some might have larger waistlines and others thinner hair but the passion and enthusiasm of the Singapore rugby team of 1997 (below, against China) were in evidence when they met last week (above).
Some might have larger waistlines and others thinner hair but the passion and enthusiasm of the Singapore rugby team of 1997 (above, against China) were in evidence when they met last week.PHOTO: SINGAPORE RUGBY UNION

First national rugby team to play at Kallang reunite to play curtain-raiser for Sunwolves

The Singapore national rugby team of 1997 were the first to bring the sport to the National Stadium. Now, 19 years on, the Sports Hub is to welcome the same squad back for another historic occasion.

The team will face the Japanese Dragons on Saturday in the curtain-raiser to the first Super Rugby match between the Sunwolves and the Cheetahs.

"It is an honour to play in the new National Stadium. It is really a world-class facility and it will be a good experience for all of us," said team member Clarence Lam, 40.

It did not take much to persuade team manager Lincoln Tan, 51, to return for this special occasion.

"It is really exciting to get the boys back together again after a long time," he said. He attributes the strong bond between the team-mates to the amount of time they spent on the road together.

"We travelled a lot together as a team between 1995 and 2004 in Asia, going to places like Malaysia, Thailand and Japan," he said.

Even though most of the members of the team have gone on to other careers like medicine and business, they still try to stay involved in Singapore's rugby community. Lam, for instance, was the team manager of the SEA Games men's rugby sevens team.

"We want to see young teams succeed and we try our best to give back to rugby," he said.

While the team's friendship and loyalty to each other have remained intact, both Lam and Tan agree that rugby in Singapore has changed since their match in 1997.

"Sports science has really improved over the years," said Lam. "Nutrition, strength and conditioning programmes and the ability to properly manage one's injuries were things we did not really have back then."

Participation in local rugby has also increased over the last few years.

"In the '90s, the players mainly came from a few clubs and schools," said Tan. "However, nowadays players come from many different backgrounds. The popularity and awareness of the game are definitely higher than before."

When they step onto the pitch at the National Stadium on Saturday, it will be a chance for the close-knit group to once again indulge their love of the sport. No fewer than 16 team members are returning.

"We have been in the same team since we were at the Under-23 age group level," said Lam. "We just want to go out and have fun. For us, it is all about passion."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 08, 2016, with the headline 'Boys of '97 are back at the hub'. Print Edition | Subscribe