SINGAPORE - The 2014 Asian Games might have taken place five months ago, but the disappointment of missing out on the tournament still lingers among the Singapore Rugby 7s players.
The team had met the qualification criteria for the Incheon Games - Singapore finished sixth in the Hong Kong leg of the ARFU Asian Sevens Series in August - but missed out as the Singapore National Olympic Council's deadline for appeals had already passed.
The team, coached by former national player Ismail Kadir, are determined to prove a point when the 2015 South-east Asia (SEA) Games rolls around in June.
Singapore will host the SEA Games for the first time since 1993 and only gold is on the minds of the Singapore players.
"Gold, and nothing less, that is the target," coach Ismail told The New Paper earlier this week.
The 38-year-old was part of the 2007 SEA Games squad that won bronze in Korat, Thailand - the last time rugby featured at the biennial event.
He has been coaching the squad of 18 players three times a week since July and feels they stand a good chance of success based on results in 2014.
Singapore beat regional rivals Thailand and Malaysia during the Sevens Series last year, finishing sixth out of 15 teams. The Philippines were the highest-ranked ASEAN team in fifth place.
The Philippines team also finished fifth at last year's Asian Games, with Thailand seventh and Malaysia ninth.
The Singapore men - with an average age of 24 - aim to beat them all at this year's SEA Games.
"The players are young, dynamic, self-motivated and they listen," said Ismail, who is affectionately known as Izzy.
"The beauty of this team is that there are no stars. Our strength is our team cohesion. Even the older guys have to work hard just to get into the final squad of 12."
The Singapore side boast just three players over the age of 30, one of whom is veteran Daniel Marc Chow, captain of the national 15s. The coach has yet to name the captain for the 7s team, but Chow is not thinking about it.
He is focused on the team.
"We have a great mix of experience and youth," said Chow.
"In previous teams, you'd look at certain players and say they're a sure starter but, with this team, Izzy actually has a selection dilemma.
"The guys who made the difference last year were the younger ones like (Marah) Israf and Nicholas (Yau)."
According to Chow, the move by the Singapore Rugby Union to blood youngsters in 2013 has begun to bear fruit.
The team experienced a difficult season two years ago, finishing 10th in the Sevens Series, but have made good strides since.
Said Chow: "There was some apprehension when this team got together early last year, because the previous season was quite demoralising.
"But 2014 was our best showing in a long while, and now, we're really confident in the 7s.
"We know our strengths and weaknesses, and we know our main rivals, like Thailand and Malaysia, well.
"The Philippines are a little more unpredictable. They have a few strong individuals who are based in Japan.
"But their team haven't played together for as long we have. Ninety per cent of them don't even live in the Philippines."
A team of 12 from the current provisional squad will compete in an invitational tournament in Darwin, starting on Wednesday, where Singapore will test themselves against Australian club sides and a Hong Kong selection.
On Feb 27, the team will compete in the prestigious Borneo 7s in Sabah, where they will face top European and New Zealand club sides.
"We're not holding back in terms of preparation for the SEA Games," said team manager Clarence Lam, also a former national player.
"We don't want any excuses come June. It's gold or bust."
This article was first published on Jan 16, 2015.
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