With the flamboyant Fijians wrapping up the Hong Kong Sevens, we look to Singapore for the next leg of the HSBC World Sevens Series. Being the inaugural year for Singapore to host, a nervous ambiguity looms over the potential success of the tournament. Presumably it will be heavily compared to Hong Kong, a tough act to follow. If Singapore’s world class efficiency, organisation and ability to entertain is anything to go by, the Singapore Sevens should be a resounding success.
2016 is an extremely exciting year to be a rugby fan in Singapore. The hosting of three Sunwolves games in the Super Rugby league has certainly wet the appetite of fans leading up to the Sevens. Despite only drawing in 8,000 fans per game for the Super Rugby, organisers are pleased that current ticket sales for this weekend have exceeded 25,000 per day. Obviously, with the approach of the Olympics, people are getting more excited about Sevens. The shortened, faster version of rugby will draw in a wider circumference of spectators, who may not be as entertained by the XV-aside format.
Ticket prices for this weekend have been set as low as $2 for a two-day junior pass. Adults will pay $150 (about £75) for top range seats. The affordable youth prices are a drive to get as many kids as possible watching and hopefully taking up rugby. The Singapore Rugby Union have also offloaded 1500 tickets to school children for free to promote the sport. Paired with the “Tag 7s” and the “Heroes in the Making” programmes, which are promoting involvement at the grassroots level, the future looks bright for rugby in Singapore.
Looking forward, the fate of Singapore Rugby according to Serevi, lies in Sevens. With the condensed version of Rugby relying much more on organic components of fitness like speed or endurance, it’s a far more level playing field between opposition. It’s a format where the likes of Kenya can beat New Zealand – obviously nothing short of impossible in XV’s. With the game rapidly developing in Asia, Japan are currently the only Asian country to claim a spot for Rio 2016, with Sri Lanka, Hong Kong and S.Korea still to play for the final spot in Monaco.
Since last Friday when the Hong Kong Sevens kicked off, there’s been an unmistakeable atmosphere in Singapore. Most people on the island, know of at least someone who ventured four hours north on a plane to watch the most popular leg on the circuit. Either that or they know of someone who watched it on TV alongside the 400 million other households that tune into the World Series every year.
On a small 700 km² island, there’s a great feeling of involvement in Singapore. Proximity allows fans to meet teams at Singapore’s only airport. Or spectators wait in hotel lobbies to greet the players as the hotels tend to be in a 10km radius from most fan’s very own homes. All of the World Series teams are training in open-view Public Sports Parks or using excellent school facilities. All of this gives fans a brilliant opportunity to watch their heroes practice or even allows young aspiring players the chance to throw a ball around with the world’s best. It’s only Wednesday and my week’s schedule so far has been:
Monday: an hour’s handling session with the King of Sevens, Waisale Serevi.
Tuesday: sit pitch-side and watch England 7s train.
Wednesday: Watch Fiji train in the morning and take part in a skills session, led by Wales 7s in the afternoon.
With everyone in Sevens rugby encouraging expansion and globalisation, there are many welcoming and friendly faces. Players, organisers and coaching staff alike want to get as many people involved in the fun as possible. Not only does this validate the dreams of some young players and fans, but it makes for an absolutely brilliant buildup to the tournament. Singapore’s population of a mere five million people, must make things unique in this way.
So, Who can we expect to lift the cup on Sunday night? Fiji, New Zealand and South Africa have established themselves as the big three threats in any Sevens tournament. However, Singapore, like Hong Kong, does have a large expat community. The extra support from expatriate English, American and Australian fans could make all the difference in levelling the playing field. Part of the thrill of these Sevens tournaments is the unpredictability – In 14 minutes, anything can happen! After the final whistle on Sunday night, the whole stadium will transform into a light show which is a spectacle worth sticking around for in itself. Expect players like New Zealand’s Sonny Bill Williams and Kurt Baker, USA’s Perry Baker, Samoa’s Phoenix Hunapo and South Africa’s Seabelo Senatla to be the talk amongst the crowd this weekend.
Singapore’s developing role in hosting major rugby events is the foundation for building a thriving rugby culture on such a small island. Hopefully, by continuing to host the Sevens and Super Rugby games for the next few years, Singapore’s own rugby progress will continue to evolve.