by Ben Hubbard
Crash! Bang! Wallop! A shoulder barge and then a full-blooded tackle. Pandemonium reigned as another body was sent tumbling to the floor and then flattened. Yes, this was your usual chaos going through check-in at Don Mueang Airport on a Friday afternoon. The rugby hadn’t started yet, but it seemed like a good warm-up.
I was excited to be on my way to Singapore for the latest installment of the fastest-growing sport in Asia and newest Olympic sport – Rugby 7s. A scaled down and faster version of rugby with fewer players (seven, as the name suggests), but the same size pitch meaning more space, more tries, and more excitement. 16 teams from around the world—ranging from your 15-a-side powerhouses New Zealand, South Africa, and England, plus Pacific Islander Sevens specialists and crowd entertainers Fiji—compete annually in this popular event. Singapore was the 8th stop in a ten tournament global format which started in Dubai in November 2017, which will finish in Paris on June 10, after the next stop in London on June 2–3.
Landing and being in Singapore itself is like checking in to an expensive hotel. There’s a small tear in your eye as you hand over your credit card and see the big sums of funds go quickly but you know you’re going to get quality for the duration of your stay. It’s not like a last-minute cheap hotel where you have to pay a deposit for the room card and have to hand the remote control back at the end. Singapore is the real deal.
It’s exactly the same for the Rugby 7s. The event is marketed and promoted well everywhere. It’s easy to get to with the MRT going straight to the stadium, and everything is easy to find once you’re there. There is a real community and family atmosphere promoted at the Singapore Sevens, and that is apparent as you make your way to the ground, with rugby-themed stalls and competitions with children scampering around with excitement in them. Participating teams have tourist boards promoting their countries outside and there are vibrant colors everywhere as people mingle around supporting and wearing the jerseys of their teams. Black and white of Fiji and NZ shirts seemed to be the color of the day as supporters everywhere had these ones… I’m not sure they were all from those countries though!
Even though Singapore isn’t quite the “party sevens” of Hong Kong yet, it does bring a lot of the fun factor to it with people dolled-up in fancy dress intent on having a good time and making a proper day of it. We saw white bikini-clad angels (men dressed up), American-themed cheerleaders (men dressed up), tight-fitting Oktoberfest lederhosen (men again, I think there’s a theme here), and some bright sparks even came dressed in full regalia as the Village People! (Ok, so they were the half-time entertainment on the final day.)
Inside the sporting arena itself, I was blown away. It’s a sporting marvel and, being Singapore, just shrieks out that everything has been meticulously planned. There is a perfect symmetry to the ground with greenery and plants and ample space to move around to go get refreshments and return to your seat, which has a great view no matter where you sit. The roof, which lights up in the colors of the teams playing, keeps in the noise and covers a quarter of the stadium where there is just enough open air and sunlight coming in to remind yourself you’re in a tropical country and not a dungeon. Then, there’s the air-con under the seats! Whoever thought of this deserves a knighthood. At the hottest time of year in one of the hottest areas of the world, having air-con in the stadium is a must and makes the whole experience more enjoyable; it must also make it easier for the players and keeps their energy levels up.
Speaking of which, my team Wales was possibly the worst team there so I quickly decided just to enjoy the action served up by the other teams. and what a feast of action it was! On the second day where the serious business of the latter stages gets going, and there are trophies up for stake, we saw some fantastic matches. Fiji vs. South Africa in the semi-final was one of the most frenetic paced and hard hitting matches that I have ever seen, with one passage of play resembling a war battlefield as bruised soldiers were strewn across the field after a series of gut-busting runs and rib-cracking tackles. Fiji saw out this close encounter 12–10 and then progressed to the final, where they won another exhilarating encounter 28–22, this time with Australia, to become Singapore Sevens Champions.
Rugby in Southeast Asia is growing rapidly. In a country so well set up for playing sport in terms of climate and facilities, Singapore is embracing it. People all over the country keep fit by playing touch rugby and their Women’s team are currently ranked third in the world. There is still a big challenge ahead to attract more supporters in to fill the 55,000 seater stadium for marquee events like this (it was only half full during both days of the event), but you’d imagine if anyone can do it, Singapore can.
My overall impression was that this tournament had a great balance. If you wanted to be entertained with your children and family, you could. If you wanted to have fun and party with your friends over a few beers, you could. If you also just wanted to watch some of the best sporting action around with air conditioning under your seat, the Singapore National Stadium was the place to be on April 28–29.
More info: www.singapore7s.sg
To follow all results of HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series visit: www.worldrugby.org