Rugby: Reiner's ready

Rugby: Reiner's ready
Singapore rugby player Reiner Leong (middle) celebrating win over Taiwan in the first international rugby Test match on home soil in three years at the Asian Tri-Nations on 24 August 2013.

As a kid, Reiner Leong was mesmerised by the Kallang Roar at the old National Stadium.

He was a ball boy at a rugby sevens tournament and experienced first-hand the thrill of having the backing of thousands of Singaporeans from the stands.

The 28-year-old will have a chance to create history as the first Singaporean to compete in the new 55,000-seater National Stadium, as part of the Asia Pacific Dragons team doing battle in the inaugural World Club 10s.

Speaking to The New Paper, Leong said: "When I was about 16, I was a ball boy at a sevens tournament at the old National Stadium, and I remember it felt just amazing.

Tremendous Roar

"The stadium wasn't full but it seemed like it, and even then, the roar from the fans was tremendous."

Leong will be playing alongside the likes of Samoan giant Alesana Tuilagi and Fiji Sevens captain Osea Kolinisau for the Dragons - an invitational squad of top players from Asia and the Pacific Islands.

The Dragons, who will be the "home" side, have Tana Umaga as head coach.

Umaga, the legendary former All Blacks captain, said his charges were relishing the chance to strut their stuff at the new stadium.

"It is pretty impressive, especially when you see it from a distance when you're on your way there," said the 41-year-old.

"On the way to training earlier, someone on the team bus said it looked like something out of Battlestar Galactica!

"The ground, obviously, is still pretty hard, but we're privileged to be among the first teams to play on it, so we're really looking forward to it.

"It's going to be a great occasion and there are some great teams playing."

While the stadium infrastructure is complete, the hybrid artificial-natural pitch remains a work in progress.

The teams in the tournament - which include the Brumbies Super Rugby franchise from Australia, France's Biarritz Olympique, Welsh side Cardiff Blues, The Blues Super Rugby franchise from New Zealand and the Samoa national team - dispelled any notion the pitch would be a problem.

About 13,000 tickets have already been sold for the event, and Umaga is looking for his team to entertain.

"I'm really looking forward to them expressing themselves," he said.

"We've talked a lot about going out there and enjoying what they do best. That's what the fans will want to see.

"We want to win everything we take part in, but in this tournament we'll come up against some full professionals.

"With the squad we have, we're pretty honest with ourselves that we've got to be at our best (to win). But we're going to go out and do just that.

"Plus, as the Asia Pacific Dragons, we're representing our region, this part of the world."

Umaga promised Leong would see action. "We've been impressed with Reiner. He's very skilful, he's strong and he's fit. He's trained very, very well," said the former New Zealand centre.

Inexperienced

"He's a bit inexperienced, but he's going to get a chance to showcase himself in front of us, his family and friends, and his country."

Leong, who stands at 1.80m and weighs 95kg, can't wait for his chance to don the Dragons' jersey.

"Personally, I'd like to see how I fare against these stars," he said.

"I've played in Australia (for Melbourne University) so I know what it's like to play against bigger opponents, but not those at this level.

"I hope I can learn from them."


This article was first published on JUNE 20, 2014.
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