School sports

School sports: Rugby's loss after Pioneer's merger

Pioneer Secondary players having a hard time trying to stop Anglo-Chinese School (Barker Road) winger Danish Rusydi Sidek in their U-16 group game during the Saints 7s rugby tournament at St Andrew's Junior College on Saturday.
Pioneer Secondary players having a hard time trying to stop Anglo-Chinese School (Barker Road) winger Danish Rusydi Sidek in their U-16 group game during the Saints 7s rugby tournament at St Andrew's Junior College on Saturday.ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM
Azyzul Azhar of Pioneer Secondary tackling Greenridge Secondary player Fa’dly Hasry in an Under-14 game at the Saints 7s tournament. Azyzul knows competition is stiff in St Andrew’s but he is making the switch to improve his skills and help him r
Azyzul Azhar of Pioneer Secondary tackling Greenridge Secondary player Fa’dly Hasry in an Under-14 game at the Saints 7s tournament. Azyzul knows competition is stiff in St Andrew’s but he is making the switch to improve his skills and help him realise his dream of making the national rugby team. PHOTO: INSTAGRAM/FA’DLY HASRY

They are the only neighbourhood school team competing with the big boys like Anglo-Chinese School (Independent) and St Andrew's Secondary in the main Cup competition of the Schools National rugby championships.

But Pioneer Secondary School will be fading out of that elite group soon.

Even though it has enough players to field a team in the B division next year, this year's batch of Secondary 2 students is its last as the school has stopped its intake.

So, its rugby teams will cease to exist after the current crop of players leave at the end of 2019.

Pioneer will merge with Boon Lay Secondary next year and although its rugby team will be kept, the co-curricular activity (CCA) will be phased out. It brings an end to 20 years of rugby in the Jurong West school, which was founded in 1994 and one of the rare schools to have rugby posts on their field.

Sec 3 fly-half Furqan Zazali said: "I chose Pioneer because of rugby. If we lose rugby, it's like the school has lost its soul. It's a great pity."

Over the years, Pioneer's students have consistently been able to hold their own against the traditional giants.

Their best result was a creditable third-place finish in 2003 in the B division.

The B boys were the Plate champions at this year's Schools National competition, beating St Joseph's Institution 19-14.

Ismail Kadir, 39, the school's coach since 2001, who is also the national rugby sevens coach, said: "We don't have the luxury to take in students who have played the sport before. Some of the boys come in, they can't run, can't catch the ball, can't jump but we had to build them up from scratch."

With one fewer school, the level of competition could take a dip.

ACS (I)'s coach Adrian Chong said: "It's a loss because Pioneer has consistently been able to produce players to compete at the top."

Current Under-15 coach Albert Tan, 35, who was part of the pioneer batch of boys to join the CCA in 1995, noted that several schools have shut down the sport in the past, including Springfield Secondary and the now-defunct Monk's Hill Secondary.

He said: "Schools rugby has been shrinking, but the sport is growing worldwide. So in that sense, we're going in the reverse direction."

Yet next year's team captain, Amirul Asyraf, is optimistic, saying: "The future is uncertain for now, but if we can perform well next year, who knows, maybe the new school will make it a CCA."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 15, 2016, with the headline 'Rugby's loss after Pioneer's merger'. Print Edition | Subscribe