Rugby: S'pore prepares to kick off era with Super Rugby and World Sevens action

The National Stadium being prepared for the Super Rugby match between the Sunwolves and the Cheetahs tomorrow evening.
The National Stadium being prepared for the Super Rugby match between the Sunwolves and the Cheetahs tomorrow evening.ST PHOTO: CHEW SENG KIM

It will start with the Sunwolves taking on the Cheetahs tomorrow. Next month, it will be the turn of the world's best rugby sevens sides to turn the National Stadium into their playground. Even school sides will get a run-out at Kallang.

The next three months will herald a new era for the sport in Singapore - starting with the first-ever Super Rugby match at the National Stadium tomorrow evening.

Said Brave Blossoms stalwart Hitoshi Ono, a 37-year-old Japanese lock who plays for the Sunwolves: "I expect to see a lot of different people coming from different countries (to watch the games).

"Since Singapore is a home ground, we'd like to play well so that people in Singapore can be proud of us."

The match is the first of three Super Rugby games the Sunwolves will play at Kallang. The Japanese franchise have adopted Singapore as a second home during the tournament, which is billed as the sport's equivalent of football's Champions League.

  • Sunwolves in S'pore

  • Where National Stadium

    When Tomorrow (v Cheetahs), March 26 (v Bulls) and May 14 (v Stormers)

    Tickets

    Single game from $35 (adult), three-game pass from $89.25. Youth, child and family packages available. Tickets available for sale at Sports Hub Tix.

The game - the first Super Rugby match in this region - also marks the start of a rugby-centric calendar at the National Stadium.

Said Oon Jin Teik, chief operating officer of the Singapore Sports Hub, where the Sunwolves will be co-based for five years: "This is a special weekend for us, as it's the start of a five-year journey... to develop the eco-system of the sport.

"For rugby, we now have in front of us, right in the backyard of Singapore... the best of both worlds - the world-class clubs and nations - coming here."

Besides Super Rugby action, the National Stadium will also host the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series, a 16-nation competition that spans 10 stops around the world, next month.

Not all the spotlight will be on the elite rugby players though, as they will also share the same stage as local school teams and Singaporean players.

For the first time, the final of two new tournaments, the South-east Asia Sevens and the Schools Sevens Under-14 Championship, will run alongside the April 16-17 Singapore Sevens Series.

The national rugby team of 1997 will take on the Japanese Dragons before tomorrow's kick-off.

Oon said: "While we are bringing the Sunwolves here, we also need to ensure the local and community aspects are built in.

"We have a five-year masterplan for the sport (to grow through) both grassroots and elite levels."

Rugby Singapore's chairman Low Teo Ping added: "It (these events) changes the paradigm of rugby, because we previously never hosted these tournaments before. We need to tap on it, maximise and boost the profile of rugby here."

Despite the planned rugby extravaganza, organisers remain tight-lipped about crowd figures for tomorrow's game. But The Straits Times understands that not more than 10,000 spectators are expected to turn up for the match.

Oon said: "We have to be realistic - rugby is not soccer.

"Rugby is a sport where (it is) developing, and you need time for it to grow. It takes time to build. The attendance... will grow in tandem. We want the whole stadium to be filled... over the years to come."

But given that rugby sevens is set to feature at the Olympics for the first time this year, the Super Rugby and Singapore Sevens events here could provide a "preview" of the action to come in Rio de Janeiro in August.

And that could be one more impetus for sports fans to head to Kallang.

Said Tang Meng Kit, 29, an aerospace engineer: "It's more grand and exciting, as we can see these world-class players whose levels are way above ours."

SEE: S'pore Sevens party will extend to Clarke Quay

•Additional reporting by Nicholas Tan

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 11, 2016, with the headline 'Rugby season begins'. Print Edition | Subscribe