Playing at the new Sports Hub's National Stadium is a privilege that has so far eluded even the national football team.
Yet, the Anglo-Chinese School (Independent)C Division rugby team will play St Andrew's Secondary School (SASS) on the Stadium's pitch.
But that won't be the only memorable moment for ACS(I). The school's 3,000 students and school staff will arrive at the finals today in style - five specially-chartered MRT trains will take them one-way from One- North MRT station directly to the Stadium MRT station starting 1.15pm. The unusual transport arrangement was sponsored by the school's parent support group.
Both SMRT and the school declined to reveal the cost of the exclusive charter.
Yesterday, ACS (I) students were briefed on the details of the rugby finals and how they were going to get to the Stadium. The New Paper understands that the decision to use the Stadium for the final match between ACS (I) and SASS was confirmed only on Friday.
The pitch at the National Stadium, despite being criticised for its sandy patches since the complex opened in June, was found to be safe for rugby competitions by school representatives, in consultation with the Ministry of Education officials and the Singapore Rugby Union officials. (See report, below.)
Mr Winston Hodge, ACS(I) principal, said classes will end earlier for the boys today so that staff and students will have time for a meal before the highly anticipated finals at 4pm. Although the arrangements were only announced yesterday, some students got wind of the news as early as Friday night. Screengrabs of an internal memo were circulated among ACS (I) students on Twitter.
"To smoothly transport close to 3,000 students and staff to the Sports Hub, the school has specially chartered five MRT trains," said the message. "Our prefects, together with the Year Directors and teachers on duty, will be leading us in a short walk to One North station, from which we will board the ACExpresS direct to the Stadium station."
The chartered trains, a first in ACS (I) history, also earned the hashtag #acexpress from students. The school hall "erupted in excitement" as soon as they heard the official announcement yesterday morning, said student Joshua Hwang, 15.
"It's something special that those who are not in ACS will not experience and I think it will be a blast," said Joshua
Another student who declined to be named agreed, saying: "The whole school is pretty pumped up. We will meet our arch-rivals and the whole school is going to be there. "(I think) this is a chance for the whole school, as an AC family, to bond and support our team," he said.
Of the school's decision to charter trains, Mr Hodge told TNP the school had considered "competitive pricing, convenience and safety" in determining the mode of transport. After exploring their options, trains stood out in terms of cost efficiency. If the school had chosen to rely on buses, they would need at least 80 buses to transport all ACS (I) students and staff members, Mr Hodge said.
As this is the first inter-school rugby finals to be held at the new Sports Hub, students, parents and alumni have "expressed interest" in attending the game, which is free but ticketed.
"Sports is about bringing people together, about community building and creating shared memories," Mr Hodge said. "We hope that many years from now when our students are themselves parents, they'll bring their own children to the Sports Hub and speak of the first time they stepped into the stadium as part of our school family," he said.
This is not the first time trains have been chartered for school events, said Mr Patrick Nathan, SMRT's vice-president of corporate information and communications.
The train operator has worked with schools for other large-scale events like National Day Parade rehearsals, he said. Generally, train charters are only an option if schools, as well as the destination, are within walking distance to an MRT station.
On same line
The two locations also need to be on the same MRT line, Mr Nathan said. In ACS (I)'s case, both stations - One- North and Stadium - are on the Circle line. Adding that chartered trains run between normal train services and strictly within off-peak hours, Mr Nathan assured passengers that train intervals will be "maintained at normal service levels at all times". The priority is still to provide "efficient and reliable passenger service", he said. Every request is reviewed on a case-by-case basis so that chartered services do not interfere with regular train services.
"SMRT believes in supporting local education and national initiatives and will continue this support without compromising our core service delivery in ensuring reliable, safe journeys for all passengers," he added.
Pitch 'safe and suitable' for match
The sandy patches on the pitch at the new National Stadium drew criticism when it opened in June and hosted the Rugby World Club 10s in the same month.
It was also the reason Juventus coach Massimiliano Allegri rested star striker Carlos Tevez as a precaution in their friendly match against a Singapore Selection team earlier this month.
Today, the inter-school C Division rugby finals between Anglo-Chinese School (Independent) and St Andrew's Secondary School (SASS) will be held on the same pitch.
Will it pose risks for the C Division players, whose ages range between 12 and 14?
No, said Mrs Lucy Toh, the principal at SASS. The pitch has been inspected and found to be safe and suitable for rugby competitions, she said.
ACS (I)'s rugby coach Adrian Chong also confirmed that the coaches' concerns were addressed before the match.
"All schools are quite happy to go ahead. If the rugby championships can take place there, surely it'll be okay (for the finals)," he said. Mr Gregory Gillin, senior director of stadia, Singapore Sports Hub, told TNP that the school representatives were at the pitch with officials from the Ministry of Education (MOE) and the Singapore Rugby Union last week, and were satisfied that it was "100 per cent safe and would provide steady footing for their players, and therefore confirmed the matches would go ahead as planned".
Commenting on the state of the pitch earlier this month, Mr Gillin had said: "As with any new stadium, we expect teething problems as we continue to ramp up operations, and are concurrently evaluating what additional measures we need to implement to achieve an elite playing surface that meets the needs of our multi-purpose calendar."
DECIDED BY MOE
Mrs Toh, a national rugby convenor, said the match venue was decided by the MOE, with support from Sport Singapore and Sportshub Pte Ltd, which manages the venue.
It is unclear who is paying to rent the pitch.
She said: "The opportunity to play at the Sports Hub will provide student-athletes with first-hand experience at the new facility, and provide more spectatorship opportunities.
"MOE will continue to explore having selected National School Games competitions at the Sports Hub where feasible and practicable."
This article was first published on August 26, 2014.
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