Ask the seven rugby stars featured in this story how popular rugby has become in recent years in Singapore and they'll tell you one thing: local fondness for the sport has hit new heights. And it's not just limited to school pitches — just look at the upcoming lineup of rugby-related events at the Singapore Sports Hub and it's easy to see that the game has caught the hearts of Singaporeans of all stripes.
Earlier this year, the venue hosted the first of two matches in the 2019 Mitsubishi Estate Super Rugby tournament between the Sunwolves and Sharks. The Sharks took that match, beating their rivals 45-10. On 23 March, the Sunwolves will take on the Lions, in a showdown that's sure to heat up old rivalries. After all, their last meeting saw the Lions narrowly win by two points (40-38).
Fans hankering for more rugby action won't have to wait long for the next kick-off after that match. On 13 and 14 April, the Singapore Sports Hub will once again host the HSBC Singapore Rugby Sevens. An iconic event on the international rugby calendar, the Sevens will have Singapore as a host until at least 2023 - we’ve recently won the bid to hold it here for another 4 years - but there’s no need to wait until then. In fact, this year's edition is set to be the most exciting one yet.
Organised in collaboration with national sporting agency Sport Singapore, this year's edition is set to be the most exciting one yet.
Regulars to the annual tournament might find that a tall order — after all, it was in Singapore that some of the most memorable Sevens matches of recent times have been played. There were the nail-biting finals of 2016 and 2017, when underdogs Kenya and Canada won, respectively. And who could forget the final of 2018, when Fiji triumphed over Australia by the slimmest of margins? This year, 16 teams will descend on the Singapore Sports Hub for a thrilling weekend that's bound to be full of exciting matches. As the Sevens are played for just 14 minutes (excluding a two-minute halftime break), spectators can look forward to short but intense matches. This makes it a perfect introduction to rugby for those unfamiliar with the sport.
For all stripes: It's not just rugby fans who have reason to cheer during this year's HSBC Singapore Rugby Sevens. An array of music and entertainment options has been lined up for that weekend. These can be accessed with the same ticket:
Dream big: The Sevens weekend coincides with Dreamworks' 25th anniversary celebrations. Young ones can look forward to meet-and-greets and stage shows from the studio's most beloved characters, among them Poppy and Branch from Trolls, the Minions from Despicable Me and those featured in Shrek.
Hang with the stars: Over the Sevens weekend, you'll be able to rub shoulders with a lineup of soon-to-be announced artistes and celebrities. And if you're feeling lucky, there'll be plenty of chances to win attractive prizes.
Touchdown tunes: Fans of music, listen up. On Saturday, American rock band Smash Mouth will perform some of their greatest hits, including 'All Star' and 'Can't Get Enough of You, Baby'. Then on Sunday, immerse yourself in rock hits from the '80s performed by the cast of Broadway's Rock of Ages, a production that has snagged five Tony Awards. Expect to hear some stirring renditions of classic tunes that have proven to be crowd favourites the world over.
Adult tickets are available from $39 and Youth tickets from $19. Buy your
tickets now at singapore7s.sg.
The athleticism of the three Triumfo brothers — Lucky, 16, Jerry, 15, and Taine, 13 — is obvious from the get-go. When Here to Play met them, we found that they couldn't keep their hands off the ball for long — while waiting for their turn for the photoshoot, they constantly passed the ball to one another. Joining them was Oliver Kellett, 11.
But hearing their stories, it's no surprise that all four boys have so much passion for rugby. As Oliver recalls, he basically grew up with a ball. "I found a rugby ball when I was three and have been kicking and throwing one around ever since," he says. The Triumfo brothers have similar stories: being the oldest, Lucky was the first to start playing rugby with his father, also a rugby fan. As more boys were added to the brood, the family's rugby passion grew.
"We were drawn to the physical aspect of it," shares Lucky. "And then there's the social part of it," adds Taine. He says that the camaraderie doesn't end when the rugby blows the full-time whistle. Instead, it carries on outside of matches as well. Jerry shares that a meal after a match is the best way to bond, regardless of the outcome of the match.
All four boys hope to continue playing after they leave school, with the Triumfo brothers aiming for the national team. And when they aren't playing, they support their favourite teams from overseas at events such as the HSBC Singapore Rugby Sevens. Having watched matches at the Sevens for several years now, they say that they are hooked. "There's so much action. The games are intense - even non-rugby fans will be thrilled," says Lucky.
Between 9am and 5pm, you'll find Ms Chan Jia Yu holed up in her office, where she works in digital marketing. But come Monday, Wednesday and Friday evenings, you'll see the tanned 28-year-old charging for a rugby ball on the pitch. A member of the Blacks Rugby Football Club, Ms Chan is one of the local women's rugby scene's most prominent players.
Having first picked up the ball some 10 years ago, she has seen attitudes towards the sport shift in Singapore and credits this to greater awareness and participation. "People have started playing and watching more games," she notes, pointing to increasing attendance at league matches.
It's not just at the local level that she excels. Ms Chan is a two-time Southeast Asian Games medallist, having stood on the winners' podium in 2015 and 2017. She hopes to up that number at this year's Games in the Philippines. How? "Training, training and more training," she says with a laugh.
Sisters Emily, 13, and Megan Kellet, 9, are no strangers to the rugby pitch, both being members of youth teams. Their fancy footwork skills are honed during rigorous training sessions, which take up most of their free time - and as Here to Play found out, they wouldn't have it any other way!
How did you pick up rugby?
Emily: I come from a rugby family and started playing touch rugby.
Megan: I picked it up by watching my sister play, although we've never played professionally together.
What did you think of rugby before you started?
E: At first, I thought it would be muddy and sweaty and gross. And it still is all those things. But it's also a lot of fun and I get to tackle boys, which is really awesome.
M: Like many people, I thought about the injuries. But as Jia Yu shared, that's just a myth.
What do your friends think about you playing rugby?
E: A lot of them are actually quite excited to join…
M: But it's their parents that need convincing!
We catch up with HITO-Communications Sunwolves blindside flanker Ed Quirk, a 27-year-old Australian who joined the professional Japanese rugby union team three years ago:
What's the difference between playing at the National Stadium in Singapore and the Prince Chichibu Memorial Rugby Stadium in Tokyo, Japan?
The fact that the National Stadium is a closed stadium (a reference to its retractable roof). I don't think there's any other in the tournament. I like it because it keeps out the heat.
You've played for both Australian and Japanese teams - what does this say about the unifying nature of rugby?
It says a lot about rugby. It doesn't matter what nationality you are or where you grew up, you can still play the sport and excel at it.
How differently has the team trained for this edition of Super Rugby?
We've trained to be a lot quicker, adding speed to everything. A lot of ball in play - that's what audiences can expect from the upcoming match in Singapore.
What advice do you have for aspiring rugby players who are seeking to 'up their game'?
Keep at it and enjoy it. Otherwise, there's no point doing it.
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