Rugby in Singapore


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Ismail Kadir - Ex international player & Asian IRB Development Officer

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Centaurs, Growlers and some Singapore spicey crabs

21,000km ticked over on the computer, and as I tried to offer the customary high-five to Jodie, I nearly plunged headfirst over the bridge. I should probably have waited, afterall, we were halfway across the giant causeway bridge when it happened, a busy section connecting Malaysia on mainland Asia to Singapore, which had quite recently been brought to my attention, is a country in it's own right. It was a huge moment on our trip because it marked our furthest overland point from Calais, from here it would be a mixture of ferries, planes and some scattered cycling before finally touching down on Australian soil.

I don't recall any countries on our trip that we've crossed in under 2 hours, and with only Indonesia, Australia and New Zealand remaining, it's quite likely to be our only one too. There was going to be much to cover on this little island, and what better way to start than by meeting our rugby loving family and generous hosts, Duncan and Ali. There was no better place to finally put behind 2 continents of pedalling and look ahead to the final few hurdles, but first a taste of Singaporean socialising.

It started with a visit to Duncan's club, a rugby section operated out of the historical Singapore Cricket Club (SCC). Thankfully by now, I had received my rather smart TAG Rugby Trust polo shirt in the post, so I only resembled half a tramp, and with a pair of Duncan's jeans covering the majority of my leg area, I was shepherded into the bar, passed the eagle eyed "dress police". Inside, we were greeted by several fellow players from Duncan's side "The Growlers", or the social XV of the club led by a man known throughout most of South East Asia as "Rusty". We were introduced around to each member, most of whom boasted an impressive history of global rugby experience. Our host Duncan, a former Esher fly-half had as diverse a rugby cv as any, but others included Andy Douglas the former Singapore number 8, Robbie Wilkins known only as "Shoe", and in a more surreal experience Steve McMahon, who had been tied up playing football with Liverpool and England for many years.

As the rugby hospitality flowed, and the beer buckets were refilled, we talked about rugby tours, about Asia and on a darker note, again about the Bali incident, now closer to home than ever before. Sadly, many of the accounts were horrific and we were left with only admiration for the way these survivors had pulled together to make the rugby communities stronger than ever before. Andy Douglas in particular had been only metres from the blast in 2002, only saved by pure fortune when a nearby pillar took much of the impact. Fortunately for Andy, he was able to recover over the following 2 years, before going on to play international rugby between 2004-2009. I have no doubt that Andy is a horrible man to face on a Saturday afternoon, but he's a great bloke to have a beer with after.

Over the course of the weekend we were taken under Rusty and Shoe's very experienced wings and treated to Singapore's lively social life, all in the name of rugby research. Quite frankly, if rugby relevations did occur during these hours, the only possibility that they were documented lies with the CCTV recordings taken at the respective night clubs and bars. I just remember having a very good time and realising that once again, there where the sport exists, the family extends too. Between our hosts Duncan and Ali and all the guys from SCC, they pulled out every last stop to ensure we had an unmissable experience in Singapore. The rugby information here is testament to the support and time they put into our stay to make it all possible. Massive thanks to everyone ! Rug on !


Despite having just toured to the Phuket 10s with the Centaurs U15 side, enthusiastic Founder and Chairman Tim Lambert still found the energy to catch up with us Monday evening. Having popped down with Duncan and Ali's young rugby son Liam on Saturday morning, I had already witnessed the weekly Centaur youth coaching in practice. Speaking briefly to Dave Docking, Director of Rugby I soon realised how Tim's 2002 concept had escalated from the initial intake of 20 children, to the organised but similarly chaotic situation I saw before me. The Centaurs have exploded in numbers with over 500 girls and boys, aged 3-17 in organised coaching sessions around the old Singapore racetrack, a very attractive and quite unique training venue. I tried to count the coaching and volunteer staff across the pitches, losing count after 30 in an impossible task amongst so much rugby activity. Little Liam's side, the U5s, had a great time hopping through cones, crawling under poles and stepping through rope ladders ignoring the increasingly heavy morning rain and giggling like maniacs. At the other end of the scale, guys with professional rugby playing experience coached the older sides. The U15 side returned from Phuket as champions, showing that the time invested is clearly paying dividends. The club has seen members come through the Centaur sides to compete at International youth level, and I have no doubt that many more children will follow in their steps and beyond. I can't recall seeing a more professional youth environment on our trip.

As a genuine rugby man, Tim Lambert was equally happy explaining the homebrew beverages on offer at their unofficial clubhouse "Brewerkz", and listening in fascination at stories from our own trip. Despite only meeting briefly, we left with the feeling that we had a new friend, a man with a fantastic rugby project on his cv, and someone who will offer us some important guidance in the future.

Rugby boxing and the Singapore Barbarians

The last thing I expected after 13 months out of the gym was to be thrown into a boxing ring with a pair of sparing pads, but it was a funny weekend and that's just where I found myself Sunday morning. Our host Duncan is a current white collar boxing champion who, with 1 bout and 1 victory to his name, is now back in training with a specific "Rugby community" version of the event. History shows that boxing legends like Ali, Tyson and Lewis had similar records after one bout, so his stats show he is in good company. The training is in line with a Singapore Barbarians fundraiser through a "fight night" staged by Buffalo events.

The Singapore Barbarians was formed in March 2003 with the objective of drawing from the Singaporean and Expatriate rugby talent, to
form an invitational team to represent Singapore by playing visiting touring teams and competing in regional tournaments. In keeping with the "Barbarians" name, they've attracted some high end interest over the years and in 2005, they secured the services of New Zealand 7s legend Owen Scrimgeour as coach. Owen appeared for the New Zealand 7s team 175 times between 1995-2001. In addition, Phil Greening, the former England and British Lion, England 7s player and Captain was an integral part of the Barbarians during his time
in Singapore, as well as his role coaching the SCC rugby squad. Phil's name has been cropping up a lot recently, but who knew that he is also the Head Coach at my old club Footscray RUFC?

Since formation, the success of the Singapore Barbarians is evident not only by the enthusiasm of players but also in its track record at both 7s and 10s. In the 15 a-side code the team have also proven strong opponents with multiple victories over Western Australia and the Singapore National Team, and an extremely rare club victory over the Hong Kong National team.

The Singapore Barbarians are good "old school" rugby guys and have taken a strong stance in helping regional charities, including the Kaibigin Orphanage, Manila, who the team visit and support on their Philippine tours.

Quite frankly, not guys I want to find myself in the ring with, headgear or otherwise!

Where does coincedence become stalking?

Back in April 2010, we had found ourselves temporarily homeless when our flat lease failed to terminate in the same week as our cycle departure. Our friend Will King stepped in at short notice whisking us off the streets and into his flat, hence becoming the first of many kind people who have taken us in and looked after us in the past 13 months. Having 2 unemployed rugby fans living on his sofa certainly changed his views on Tuesday night drinking, but also unleashed his own adventurous nature and so he planned to join us for some cycling in Australia. Saying goodbye to Will on our final morning was the beginning of the journey for us, and a moment we have talked about many times over during the trip. In short, deciding to leave his door was a tough decision and instinct told us that it was the wrong thing to do. Walking away from security, companionship and comfort is against all our basic instincts as humans, much like deciding not to throw yourself off a bridge attached to a bit of elastic.

Although we didn't expect him to fly halfway round the planet to spend his holiday pedalling through outback, we did at least hope to meet up with our friend and share the stories from a journey that began at his own front door. We certainly didn't expect to bump into him while we were 'networking' with the rugby guys on Tanjong beach in Singapore, but having met his elegant and charming girlfriend Anna, we were not at all surprised to find out he had made the journey 6 times this year already. Comically, there was a moment of hesitation as we stood face to face, possibly incurred by jugs of sangria, some unfamiliar facial hair, and the unlikeliness of such an situation. We need to re-add Will to our thankyou list, and of course Anna, who even braved work the next morning as us 3 slept off the excitement.



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