ANGLO-CHINESE School (Independent) student Matthew Robinson, a slight 14-year-old described by coaches and peers as the best scrum-half of his age in Singapore, took a disbelieving look around the National Stadium and shook his head.
"My hands are still shaking - I can't believe I just played on this field, in front of a big crowd," said the 1.58m tall teenager, pointing to 6,000 boisterous spectators.
With the Schools National C Division winners' medal slung around his neck, Matthew and his comrades knew they had been a part of something special.
They had won the first schools final to be held at the crown jewel of the Singapore Sports Hub, comprehensively beating arch-rivals St Andrew's Secondary (SAS) 28-8 to avenge a one-point defeat in last year's final.
Perhaps most importantly, they had done it in front of their entire school, who arrived in style via five chartered MRT trains where school cheers and even a birthday song echoed across the carriages.
The entire occasion had a big European football match feel to it.
School anthems were sung with gusto, faces and giant banners were painted in team colours and of course, there were a few Mexican waves across the terraces too.
ACS(I) student Jared Leow, 16, sporting a painting of the school crest on his left cheek, said: "I came for the rugby World Club 10s and the Juventus football friendly at this stadium - the atmosphere here today is far better.
"I had my first taste of the Kallang Roar."
Backed by tries from Tristan Yeow, Douglas Ang, Isaac Tan and Josh Quan, the schools rugby powerhouse clinched their 17th title in the division since 1993.
The hour-long encounter had its fair share of tackles, tries and tiffs. But when it ended, sportsmanship prevailed as both sides exchanged handshakes and formed a huddle to pray.
"Fair play to ACS, they had everything to lose as the clear favourites but the pressure didn't seem to get to them," said SAS coach Nick Dance.
The 500-strong St Andrew's contingent gave a standing ovation to their team, some of whom were in tears as they collected their runners-up prize.
They can take credit for being the first side to restrict ACS(I) to less than 67 points in this year's competition.
The SAS pack did not get inside the opposing 22m line in the first half, too busy trying to fend off incessant attacks from their well-drilled opponents.
"This is probably the strongest team we have had since 2002 - there's speed, guile and the man-mountains to take opponents down," said long-time ACS(I) coach Adrian Chong, who was embraced in hugs and back-slaps after the final whistle.
"What most people don't see is the sacrifices made by these boys - training most evenings, even on weekends, while juggling their studies and social life."
Playing under a closed dome, the youngsters could barely hear each other - let alone their coaches on the sidelines - amid the cacophony of songs and screams from both sets of supporters.
ACS(I) players were put through mental visualisation exercises in the days leading up to the clash to maintain their calm and focus.
Burly No. 8 Mikha Khaleel, who stands at 1.75m and weighs 89kg, impressed with his reading of the game, and was often seen encouraging nervous team-mates.
The 14-year-old said: "We definitely felt pressure with all our classmates and family watching.
"But we knew if we kept our focus, we would win.
"We wanted to be the first schools rugby champions in this stadium - history is ours."
This article was first published on August 27, 2014.
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