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New Look Singapore Looks to Fend Off Challengers



Singapore's rugby team are set for a collision with our neighbours Malaysia. (Photo: SSC)

It does not get any bigger than a grudge match against our neighbours from across the causeway, Malaysia, to kick off Team Singapore’s Asian Five Nations (A5N) rugby season for 2011.
 
In a high stakes crunch tie, the result will determine if Singapore heads into a promotion playoff to regain its top five status or into a relegation dogfight to stave off a drop into the next lower division.
 
Singapore is currently in Division I, which is the second tier of the A5N. Singapore last held an A5N Top Five place in 2009 and national coach Des Thornton will certainly hope to bring them back there. But first the newly appointed head honcho of the national rugby team will have to pick his squad for the tournament from a talented group of passionate players.
 
“There are quite a few talented and up and coming young guys in the squad. These include a few teenagers and a few who are still part of the U-20 squad, and a few experienced hands. The squad has quite a reasonable distribution.”
 
Rebuilding the squad with a view to the long term success of the national teams is the priority of the new coach.
 
“Our objective this year is to try and get the average age down. This may take a couple of years, but for Singapore rugby to be strong in the future, you need to get the average age down to around 23 or 24,” explained Thornton.
 
“It’s like a continuous renewal.”
 
In last year’s edition, the Singapore squad that played  against Sri Lanka in the division final comprised nine expatriates in the starting fifteen. This is because International Rugby Board rules permit players to represent a country after three years of residency.

 
However, there is now a more local flavour to the team as the Singapore Rugby Union hopes to develop more local talent as only citizens are eligible to compete in major sporting events like the Olympics and the Asian Games.             
 
One person who shares Thornton’s confidence in the new-look side ahead of the Asian Five Nations is assistant coach Faizal Ayhar.
 
“I’m pretty confident. This is a very different team from last year,” he said, referring to the team’s chances in this coming tournament.
 
“They’ve been training and working very hard and as long as we stick to the plan and stay disciplined, I don’t think we’ll have a problem.”
 
Singapore takes on traditional rivals Malaysia on 1 June, having narrowly beaten their causeway counterparts 25-23 on home soil last year, but the seasoned players in the current set-up are hopeful that their experience will help see the team through.
 
“Malaysia is probably the biggest threat in terms of the rivalry,” said Jonathan Wong, who is one of the more senior players in the side. “Once we get over that hurdle, then we can face the bigger boys.”
 
And those bigger boys will likely present itself in the shape of the Korean side should Singapore progress pass Malaysia to enter the divisional playoff, but even then Thornton has every confidence that his boys will match them.
 
“The Malaysian team is always very strong. The Korean team last year didn’t bring a lot of their Japanese players and they went with a very new squad and they seemed to get a little bit shell shocked,” described Singapore’s national coach. “So I think the competition is very even (in this region) apart from Japan.”
 
However, Korea will have home ground advantage this time around, but still no one in the side is worried that the climate will affect our boys in their quest this year.
 
“We’re going to Korea in June, I’m assuming at that latitude the temperature will be in the low twenties, so it shouldn’t be too bad,” said Thornton.
 
“Success comes down to minimum errors, applying pressure, creating line breaks and forcing the opposition into creating errors,” pointed out Thornton. “I think if the guys can stick to the patterns and play the way we’ve trained, then we will hopefully be successful.”