Rugby: Positive Kallang response to Sunwolves a boon for SRU

The Sunwolves lost 31-32 in their first Super Rugby match in Singapore against South African side Cheetahs at the National Stadium on March 12, 2016.
The Sunwolves lost 31-32 in their first Super Rugby match in Singapore against South African side Cheetahs at the National Stadium on March 12, 2016. ST PHOTO: NEO XIAOBIN

Singapore's maiden venture into professional rugby has given the powers that run the sport here much food for thought.

Super Rugby newcomers the Sunwolves attracted 8,808 supporters when they made their Kallang debut against the Cheetahs on March 12 and organisers revealed that the positive response has given them something to build on.

The Japanese team, who are co-based in Singapore, will play their second home game against the Bulls at the National Stadium on Saturday.

Jonathan Leow, SRU vice-president, said: "It is a good start and it leaves us with much to look forward to. It is important that our local rugby community get involved in these events.

"We kicked off well with the match attendance. But there is definitely more that we can do, definitely more we want to do and it's heartening that the other side (Japan Rugby Football Union) are very keen as well.

"The Sunwolves organisation has been great, the players and coaches have been great as well but there's still a lot more that we can work on."

Mindful about how the local fraternity would react to the extensive line-up of premium rugby events in the first quarter of the year - the HSBC World Rugby Singapore Sevens takes place next month - the SRU was relieved to know that Singaporeans appear to have bought into the product.

"We were a bit apprehensive at the start - could it be an overload of rugby for a community that's not been exposed to it so much before? But we've actually been, to a certain extent, proven wrong," said George Danapal, SRU general manager.

"The crowd is lapping it up. The crowd response at the first game was pretty impressive."

He added that the SRU has gained much insight from the relationship.

"It's (the partnership) helping us to understand the logistics and administration of professional sport. It's a good eye-opener and development phase for us," he explained.

"It could hold us in good stead if for example, at the next level we could bring a national team over - a Test match for example."

When asked about the possibility of starting a Singapore-based Super Rugby franchise, Leow remained coy about the prospect, noting that its focus for now is on developing rugby at a local and regional level.

"The role of the SRU is to grow the game in Singapore. We want to foster a sense of community in Singapore and we want to foster it ultimately through growing the game," he said. "While we're not going to close the door, as a national sports association, that's not our core aim of business."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 23, 2016, with the headline 'Positive Kallang response to Sunwolves a boon for SRU'. Print Edition | Subscribe