Underdogs S'pore ready to maul

The moment they were granted entry into the Asia Rugby Championship Division 1 a fortnight ago, the Singapore team were immediately labelled as underdogs.

However, head coach Inoke Afeaki is relishing the challenge ahead of the team's first match against Sri Lanka today at the Royal Selangor Club in Kuala Lumpur.

Singapore are ranked 59th in the world, while the Sri Lankans are 20 places above them. With lowered expectations, Afeaki feels the players have a lighter load to carry.

He said: "They will have more space and freedom to play on the field and won't freeze as a result of the pressure being too much.

"Being underdogs will give us a real advantage as we could try to spring a surprise or two."

Singapore were promoted back into Division 1 after Kazakhstan's last-minute withdrawal. They were relegated last year after an extra-time loss to the Philippines and a loss to the Kazakhs in the third-place play-offs. The Republic will again face the Philippines - ranked 53rd - and Malaysia (No. 58) on Wednesday and Saturday respectively.

Captain Gaspar Tan, the team's most experienced player with 22 caps, hopes his men are able to achieve their goal to stay in the division. The 27-year-old hooker said: "We are looking at winning two out of three games to remain in Division 1. Realistically, the team will be gunning for those wins when we come up against Phillipines and Malaysia but we're not holding back against Sri Lanka."

Besides the return of SEA Games rugby sevens bronze medallists Daniel Marc Chow, Muhammad Zaki and Marah Ishraf to 15-a-side rugby, the 25-man squad also features 12 debutants.

Despite the new blood, Tan emphasised the team's quality and said: "We have a good blend of youth and experience, but the players are selected on merit and are good enough to represent the team."

ASIA RUGBY CHAMPIONSHIP DIV I

Sri Lanka vs Singapore: StarHub Ch202, 2.30pm Malaysia v Philippines: 4.30pm

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on May 08, 2016, with the headline 'Underdogs S'pore ready to maul'. Print Edition | Subscribe