Rugby: National coach Afeaki could be replaced by a local

Inoke Afeaki (with hand raised), technical director and head coach of the national rugby team, giving instructions during a training session in 2013.
Inoke Afeaki (with hand raised), technical director and head coach of the national rugby team, giving instructions during a training session in 2013.ST FILE PHOTO

National rugby coach's job on the line at Asian C'ships after string of bad results

Tongan Inoke Afeaki's future as technical director and head coach of the Singapore men's rugby team will be on the line at the Asian Rugby Championship (ARC) in May.

On the back of poor results for the national senior and youth sides over the past year, sources said the Singapore Rugby Union (SRU) is considering a revamp of its elite coaching structure.

The proposal includes the appointment of a local national coach - the last was Sam Chan in 2000 - backed by ad hoc consultants from rugby powerhouses like New Zealand and Australia.

It is believed that the SRU is looking to install a former national player in the top job so as to foster stronger camaraderie and lessen the drop-out rate among players.

"Right now, some guys don't take a national call-up seriously, like finding excuses not to go for training," said one senior national player who declined to be named.

A TOUGH PROCESS

We need more international games to test ourselves, and it has not been easy at times to get our team together, whether it's national service, work or other commitments.

INOKE AFEAKI, national men's rugby head coach, on the challenges he faces at the helm.

"I don't blame Inoke as he's a very good coach, but he has found it difficult to deal with the local sporting culture and trying to motivate semi-professional players.

"He has too much on his plate, overseeing all the national squads and youth development."

Insiders said Afeaki - whose contract is believed to expire early next year - will be let go if the Reds do not win the ARC Division Two tournament, which also features the United Arab Emirates, Uzbekistan and Guam.

The 42-year-old took over from Australian Des Thornton in January 2013, when the Republic was ranked 66th in the world.

The Reds currently sit in 59th spot - eighth among Asian countries, short of the SRU's target to be among the continent's top-six nations.

Last year, the national team and Under-19s were relegated to the second division in their respective Asian championships, while the U-23 side also suffered a 10-27 loss to Malaysia in the Causeway Challenge last month.

The sevens team fell short at the SEA Games last June, forced to settle for bronze after targeting top spot on home soil.

Afeaki admitted the 2015 campaign was a "step backwards" from a year earlier, when the men's 15s side competed one rung below the premier level, which features heavyweights Japan and Hong Kong.

"We put a lot of time and resources towards the SEA Games and perhaps neglected other teams," said the three-time World Cup flanker.

"We need more international games to test ourselves, and it has not been easy at times to get our team together, whether it's national service, work or other commitments."

Still, Afeaki's contact base has been a boon, helping to arrange trials for Singapore players in Japan and also roping in former All Blacks Tana Umaga and Karl Te Nana for coaching clinics here.

The average age of the national team also fell from 29 to 25 during his tenure, with more local talents fast-tracked into the senior set-up.

SRU vice-president Jonathan Leow declined to comment on Afeaki's future, but admitted that the association's long-term goal is to "develop both local players and coaches". He added: "Coaching is an area where we are developing a pathway for local talent to be exposed and mentored to excel at the highest levels."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 12, 2016, with the headline 'Afeaki could be replaced by a local'. Print Edition | Subscribe