S'pore confident about Asia Rugby 7s despite new faces

Despite fielding new-look squads, the national men's and women's rugby sevens teams are expecting a better performance at this year's Asia Rugby Sevens Series.

The three-legged continental series featuring eight nations kicks off in Hong Kong this weekend, followed by the South Korean leg on Sept 24-25. It then concludes in Sri Lanka on Oct 15-16.

The men's team are grouped with Asian heavyweights Japan, the defending champions, South Korea and China as they aim to finish in the top six, an improvement from their seventh-place finish last year.

Only half of the 12-man squad, including former captain Daniel Marc Chow, played in last year's SEA Games, where the ruggers won a bronze medal.

Yet skipper Marah Ishraf, 22, believes that they can put up a strong fight against the bigger teams.

He said: "We've improved technically. Our passing is sharper and our defence is more disciplined."

The women's side have retained only four of their 12-member SEA Games silver medal-winning squad.

But captain Alvinia Ow Yong, 29, is not perturbed by the loss of experience, pointing out: "The new girls can bring new things to the team. They are much younger so they have more pace and aggression."

They will face reigning champions Japan, Hong Kong and Guam in the pool games. Singapore finished sixth last year.

Women's coach Wang Shao-Ing, 39, is expecting her debutantes to relish the chance to make an impression, as they could even face some members of the Japanese Olympic team who finished 10th in Rio.

She said: "Now with our new team, either you sink or swim.

"In terms of game experience and number of years in the team, it's less than what we had at the SEA Games.

"We are nearing the end of the first year of our rebuilding phase. I think the first round of matches will tell a lot in terms of where we are.

"(But) we don't want to take this as just a testing ground.

"Because it would have a bearing on whether we qualify for the Asian Games (in 2018) or not, we want to show that we are consistent and that we can challenge the top dogs in Asia."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 01, 2016, with the headline 'S'pore confident about Asia Rugby 7s despite new faces'. Subscribe