Rugby: SRU tie-up with Melbourne Rebels a big lift for Singaporeans in Australia too

Melbourne Rebels v British & Irish Lions on Jun 25, 2013.
Melbourne Rebels v British & Irish Lions on Jun 25, 2013.PHOTO: ACTION IMAGES

A new partnership between the Singapore Rugby Union (SRU) and Super Rugby outfit Melbourne Rebels will benefit not just national players but also Singaporeans who study or work in Australia.

The deal will allow Singapore coaches and the national team to train and enhance their skills at the Rebels' state-of-the-art facility in Carlton, a suburb of Melbourne.

It will also give SRU a chance to reach out to youngsters who gave up the sport to pursue their studies. In Melbourne alone, it has found 15 former national players enrolled at various universities.

It will be tapping on Singaporeans in other parts of Australia when joint-training sessions with the Rebels begin early next year.

The details are still being firmed up. However, those who impress could be offered professional contracts to play for the Australian rugby powerhouses.

Singapore Under-23 player John Paul Phang, who studies at the University of Melbourne, welcomed the initiative. The 22-year-old said: "For many Singaporean ruggers in Australia, it's a little daunting to come and play even at club level if you don't know anyone.

"To be able to meet the coaches of the Rebels and be told you are part of their team and have the introductions, that motivates me to continue playing here, and back home as well when I get back."

Led by former Munster coach Tony McGahan, the Rebels finished 10th in this year's Super Rugby series, an elite 15-team southern hemisphere competition.

Their key players include forwards Toby Smith and Sean McMahon, who are currently representing Australia at the Rugby World Cup, as well as flanker Adam Thomson, a 2011 World Cup winner with New Zealand.

Besides coaching and player development under the SRU tie-up, there are also plans for the Rebels to play exhibition games in Singapore and form an offshoot team based here.

English side Saracens, for instance, have secondary squads in Kuala Lumpur, Kenya and the United States.

SRU vice-president Jonathan Leow said the association strategically aligns with professional franchises and unions from around the world to gain technical know-how and exchange ideas.

He added: "We have already established relationships with the Western Force (Perth) and the Wellington Rugby Union.

"The latest one with the Rebels is one we hope can grow and help the SRU on a technical front to develop our homegrown capabilities on and off the field."

The SRU partnership is already bearing fruit.

Rising Singapore fly-half Halcyon Price has been called up for trials with Rebels' U-20 outfit.

The University of Melbourne student, 18, said: "The opportunity to train and see how they work can only make me a better player.

"I want to be the best player I can for Singapore. If I can maximise my time in Australia, that helps my ultimate goal."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 29, 2015, with the headline 'SRU tie-up a big lift for S'poreans in Australia too'. Print Edition | Subscribe