Giving back to rugby in more ways than one

EVERY sport espouses virtues such as character building and team bonding, the values of integrity and sportsmanship, and the cognitive process of volition.

With rugby comes the five core values of teamwork, respect, enjoyment, discipline and sportsmanship - developed as a tradition from the first time a young player shakes hands with his opposite number, leading to a life-long friendship.

In Singapore, we have witnessed this cementing of relationships in the way the national players of yesteryear - the likes of Natahar Bava, John Koh, Song Koon Poh, Allan Wee, Shee Lay Toon, Mohamed Rashid and Sumadi Sarkawi - have maintained their friendships with regular meetings to catch up over jugs of beer.

This bunch of "comrades" are also planning to publish a book next year to commemorate the 40th year of their historic 1978 Malaysia Rugby Union cup triumph, outmanoeuvring a taller and weightier Royal New Zealand Infantry Regiment team along the way to victory under the guidance of illustrious coach Bava.

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On Wednesday, at an Air New Zealand- sponsored coffee session at the InterContinental Hotel's Baker and Cook restaurant, three All Blacks Sevens stars - Trael Joass, Sione Molia and Iopu Iopu-Aso - underlined these values as they humbled themselves to serve coffee and try their hand at preparing teh tarik to the delight of an appreciative crowd.

The unique Kiwi hospitality over flat whites, cappuccinos and lattes was also a lead-up to the eighth HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series at the iconic Sports Hub this weekend.

Rugby has a special place in the Singapore sporting landscape. It was the sport that the late former deputy prime minister and defence minister Goh Keng Swee rooted for as he campaigned for a rugged Singapore.

He initiated rugby at the Singapore Armed Forces Sports Association and encouraged schools to take up the sport. In fact, the National Schools C-Division boys still play for the Shield that's named after him.

With that as the backdrop, Wednesday's event had a special significance as the All Blacks stars spoke about how the game has helped not only their careers but also their lives.

Joass, a 23-year-old hard-running midfielder in the 15-a-side game, had the most inspiring story, coming back from heart surgery two years ago with the guts and gumption of true-blue rugby warrior.

He said: "I played rugby union, rugby league and football from the age of five, and I chose the first because it taught me the best values, such as friendship, camaraderie, fighting spirit and even about how to use negative energy in a positive way.

"When I was 19, it was discovered that I had a heart condition leading to feeling faint and a loss of breath. It was a low point in my career and I went through surgery. In fact, I was told that the problem was life threatening.

"But I stayed the course, lifted my spirits. Now I'm back in the grind, and I would like to give back to the sport that gave me so much."

His remarkable comeback saw him being drafted into the national team earlier this year and he believes that the All Blacks will bounce back after going through a transition period when they lost many senior players.

So, too, the 26-year-old loose forward Iopu-Aso, who went through a severe bout of depression following a nasty run of injuries. But he soldiered on, as most rugby players do, to ensure that he was back on the playing field.

Meanwhile, three other All Blacks players - Sam Dickson, Vilimoni Koroi and Tone Ng Shiu - joined sponsor AIG in packing and distributing food parcels with charity organisation Food from the Heart for the underprivileged living in Geylang Bahru.

With Air New Zealand, the All Blacks have spent much time up in the clouds, but as the six stars who unceasingly signed autographs and posed for selfies showed on Wednesday, they have always kept their feet on the ground, as taught by the sport.

This article was first published on Apr 13, 2017.
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