Gollings lends his rugby sevens expertise to Singapore team

Retired English great Ben Gollings conducting training with the Singapore national rugby sevens team last Saturday at Turf City. The 14-man squad will head to Brisbane next Thursday for a four-day training camp.
Retired English great Ben Gollings conducting training with the Singapore national rugby sevens team last Saturday at Turf City. The 14-man squad will head to Brisbane next Thursday for a four-day training camp.ST PHOTO: LIM SIN THAI

Ex-England skipper gives guidance as men's team seek to do better at KL SEA Games

The Singapore national rugby sevens men's team's quest for gold at next month's SEA Games in Kuala Lumpur has been boosted by the assistance of English great Ben Gollings.

The International Rugby Board World Series' all-time points scorer with 2,322 points has been working with the team since last December in an advisory capacity.

Based in Brisbane, the 37-year-old operates remotely for the most part - reviewing video footage of weekly training sessions and matches, identifying areas for improvement and providing training and tactical feedback.

He also visits Singapore once every few months to conduct training camps with the players.

Last Saturday was one such training camp, and the former England sevens skipper's competitiveness remains evident despite retiring from professional rugby in 2011.

"Don't just play, play to win," he barked at the players during an internal practice match.

Right after a try was scored, Gollings blew his whistle and brought the play back to the start before asking his charges: "What could you have done better?"

The scenario replayed itself multiple times throughout the two-hour session, with Gollings describing his coaching philosophy as open minded and centred on player involvement.

"I don't believe in structure too much. I like to involve everybody and have ideas from the players," he told The Straits Times.

"It's more of arming the players with the tools for decision making and getting them to adapt to the situation at any particular moment on the field.

"It's what in front of you that's the key, and how you solve the problem at hand."

This approach has been well received by the national players.

Said Mattias Chia, 24, who will be playing in his first Games: "We're very lucky to have him. I really enjoy training under Ben.

"He doesn't spoon-feed us. We go through the drill on our own. He only steps in after its over and asks us to think where we went wrong before he gives his input on how it could have been improved."

For captain Marah Ishraf, 22, the opportunity to train under one of his idols is a dream come true.

" I remember watching him when I was about 10-years-old on TV, so to train under such a star... it's surreal," said Marah.

"It's a two way process with Ben. He makes you think and analyse."

Gollings' influence has also rubbed off on the coaching staff.

Said assistant coach Daniel Tham: "He keeps telling us to challenge (the players) because that will lead to higher retention. It changes the way we used to coach.

"In Singapore, we are used to coaching where we do drills and tell the players the game plan. But now we let players be more involved and give their input.

"This batch is fitter and smarter rugby-wise."

The team hope that Gollings' expertise will give them a decisive edge come August and improve on their disappointing bronze-medal finish at the previous edition of the SEA Games on home soil.

Marah, who played at the last Games, said: "The bronze was a bitter pill to swallow. Hopefully, we can translate what Ben and our coaches taught us in training onto the field and get to the end goal.

The 14-man squad head to Brisbane next Thursday for a four-day training camp under Gollings, which will see them go up against local sides.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 22, 2017, with the headline 'Gollings lends his rugby 7s expertise'. Print Edition | Subscribe