Rugby: Singapore rugby 15s side back in Asian Division 1

Singapore's Daniel Marc Chow (centre, in white) playing against Hong Kong in 2013.
Singapore's Daniel Marc Chow (centre, in white) playing against Hong Kong in 2013.PHOTO: ST FILE

National side invited to replace Kazakhstan in tournament only a year after being relegated

Having suffered the ignominy of relegation from the Asia Rugby Championship's Division 1 last year, the Singapore national rugby men's 15s team have been itching for a shot at redemption - and it has come much sooner than they had expected.

The Singapore Rugby Union confirmed with The Straits Times that it has accepted an invitation from regional governing body, Asia Rugby, for the team to play in the Division 1 tournament, following the withdrawal of Kazakhstan. No official reason was given.

The Republic's men's team (world ranking 59), who were relegated to Division 2 after last season, will now share the pitch with the Philippines (54th), Sri Lanka (39th) and hosts Malaysia (58th) at the competition in Kuala Lumpur next month (May 8-14).

While last year's tournament followed a knock-out format, this year will see the teams competing in a round-robin group.

The winning team will get a shot at promotion into the top-tier Tri-Nations division, via a play-off against the bottom-placed team of the competition featuring continental powerhouses Japan, South Korea and Hong Kong.

SRU's vice-president Jonathan Leow said: "It is a great opportunity for us to stake our claim in Division 1 again. We are there to do our best and take full advantage of it."

APTITUDE AND ATTITUDE

The standard between us and the other teams isn't far off. We just need a twitch in mentality from the players...we should be up and gearing to play.

GASPAR TAN, Singapore captain, on the opportunity to step up as a team.

He added that negotiations are also under way for the women's 15s team to gain promotion into Division 1, where they will face the likes of Japan and Hong Kong.

Once confirmed, the SRU will explore the possibility of having one of the women's matches played at the National Stadium on May 14, as a curtain-raiser ahead of the Super Rugby clash between the Sunwolves and the Stormers.

Despite preparations being cut short by a week, with Division 2 matches scheduled for May 18-21, technical director and men's team coach Inoke Afeaki said: "You want to be measured against teams of your level and see where you stand. We'll be looking to maintain that position in Division 1... it's good to be among the group we should be playing against."

The team lost both their games against the Philippines (17-20) and Kazakhstan (12-32) last year. Lock Gabriel Lee is particularly eager for a "chance to get back" at the Filipinos, as he was part of the team that lost in double extra-time, having squandered an early 10-0 lead.

The 30-year-old said: "We were devastated last year. Now that we're back in Division 1, everyone has stepped up in training and is hyped up - you can feel the vibes."

The team has a bigger pool of talent to draw from this time - the likes of lock Daniel Marc Chow and scrum-half Maran Ishraf, who both play for the national rugby sevens team, will be available for selection.

Chow, 32, is wary of having over-the-top expectations about their return, saying: "The mood within the team is good, but I think we have to be a bit smart approaching the competition. Realistically we're not looking to win it, but it'll be good if we can stay in the division."

Team captain Gaspar Tan, 27, added: "It comes down to the individual fears from the players - there will definitely be flashbacks from last year, but it's up to us to get over this and hopefully get the result.

"The standard between us and the other teams isn't far off. We just need a twitch in mentality from the players... we should be up and gearing to play."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 21, 2016, with the headline 'S'pore Rugby back in Asian Division 1'. Print Edition | Subscribe