S'pore keen on Indopac Rugby C'ship

New league is expected to start in March 2019 and could feature marquee players across 6 teams

Singapore is exploring the idea of forming a franchise to play in the newly formed Indo Pacific Rugby Championship (IPRC), which is slated to start in 2019.

Singapore Rugby Union (SRU) vice-president Sunny Seah told The Straits Times that the national sports association attended a presentation by the new league's representatives here last week.

Seah said: "It is still very conceptual at this stage, but we see it as an opportunity and are quite excited about it."

The IPRC is the brainchild of Australian mining magnate Andrew Forrest, who introduced the new competition in September in response to the Australian Rugby Union's axing of Western Australian side Western Force from next year's Super Rugby competition.

The 18-team Super Rugby tournament, which also featured the Japan and Singapore co-based Sunwolves, will be reduced to 15 sides next season.

South African sides Cheetahs and Southern Kings are the other two teams that have been axed.

Billionaire Forrest is based in Western Australia, and a supporter of the Western Force.

According to recent media reports, the IPRC will feature six franchises, including the Western Force, and will start in March 2019.

This will bring it head to head with the Super Rugby season, which runs from February to August.

Other than Singapore, the new league's organisers have reportedly been in contact with countries such as China, Japan, India, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Fiji, Hong Kong and South Korea on forming franchises.

Seah added: "The interesting thing is that it's not just about the men's 15s; they plan to have competitions for the women's 15s, as well as the men's and women's sevens. It seems like a pretty big deal."

However, the clash in the Super Rugby and IPRC league seasons would also mean that top players may choose Super Rugby over the new competition if they want to be selected for Australia, especially with the World Cup looming in 2019 in Japan.

With only a few exceptions, the Wallabies' selection policies dictate that players must play for a franchise in Super Rugby, which features four Australian sides next season, to be considered for selection.

But Seah said: "They have promised us that there'd be marquee players, probably former Wallabies, and they will not be concentrated in an Australian super team that plays against the rest of the world.

"These players will be distributed among the franchises and they will, in turn, help the various teams develop rugby in their respective countries through clinics and training."

National player Kyle Chong is understandably excited about the possibility of playing in the new championship.

The No. 10 said: "It would be a great opportunity and one that I would relish. As a player, you always want to improve and be better.

"The only way to do that and improve individually, and as a team, is to play with, and against, better players.

"The concept is fantastic and I'm keen to hear more plans as it develops with the organisers and SRU."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 11, 2017, with the headline 'S'pore keen on Indopac Rugby C'ship'. Subscribe