Muay Thai rugby

Kick, punch, grab and throw, all moves which are outlawed in rugby.

But a series of muay thai training sessions seem to be the way forward for the Singapore men's rugby sevens team.

As they prepare for a gold-medal assault at the South-east Asia (SEA) Games here in June, the players are mixing up their training schedule.

Aside from slogging it out on the field, on some days they do a round of muay thai and, on others, cross-training under the tutelage of former Singapore sprint king U K Shyam.

"It's all relevant to the game," said coach Ismail Kadir, 38, nicknamed "Izzy" by the players.

"Rugby requires explosiveness, power and speed, and that's where the cross -training comes in.

"But you also have to learn how to outmanoeuvre your opponent, and that explains the muay thai."

At the Sports Hub yesterday, the team were taught how to position their body when an opponent goes low for the tackle.

It was their fourth muay thai session over the past month, while cross-training under Shyam has been ongoing since January.

The team have been training every day for the past six months, with a mixture of gym work and on-field training.

HOLISTIC APPROACH

Aside from the physical aspect, the players have also worked with a sports psychologist to enhance communication and team spirit, while giving coach Izzy and manager Clarence Lam a better idea on the relationship between players.

"We actually planned the whole SEA Games preparation since last June. We wanted to leave no stone unturned," explained Lam, 39, a former national player.

"We tell ourselves we're going to win that gold medal, but whatever happens, we don't want to wonder what else we could've done."

As the Games near, captain Daniel Marc Chow said the excitement and anxiety within the camp has increased.

Singapore are among six teams vying for honours in the two-day (June 6 and 7) competition at the Choa Chu Kang Stadium.

The tournament will feature a round-robin format and the top two teams will play-off for the gold.

The Philippines are regarded by many as the favourites after finishing fourth at last year's Asian Games in South Korea, while Thailand and Malaysia have always gone toe to toe with Singapore during the Asian Sevens Series the past few years. Said Chow: "We're getting excited by the day.

"Now that we know the grouping and format, everyone is making the formulations in their heads.

"Some of us are getting nervous as well, especially now that the final 12 (players) have been named. Everyone now knows that it's game time.

"But we're well prepared. Our preparation has been the best that we could have done."

One aspect of preparation that has taken care of itself is the camaraderie - a result of the amount of time the players have spent together. "The sports psychologist also handed us a table on our team dynamic after the sessions," said Lam.

"The result was, in a word, outstanding, especially given the age distribution of the team. The youngest is 18, the oldest 31.

"The game of sevens is so different from 15s; the guys have to fight for each other.

"It's all about trusting the guy next to you.

"For me and Izzy, we're just lucky to have a group of players who want it more than us."

Republic relying on a 'Rocket'

When fans head to the Choa Chu Kang Stadium for SEA Games Sevens rugby in June, they will see a Singapore speedster possibly wreaking havoc on his opponents.

Blink, and you could miss him.

Aptly nicknamed "Rocket" by his teammates, Marah Ishraf Mohd Hoessein (right) is one of the reasons why the Singapore men's team feel good about their chances of gold.

Only 20, Ishraf, who can play either as a fly-half or scrum-half, is regarded as one of the team's main weapons, and a future star of the national 15s team.

June will mark his first major tournament in national colours, but Ishraf isn't fazed by all the hype.

"Yes, I'm a little nervous, because this SEA Games is on home soil, but I'm getting used to the attention; I don't let pressure get to me," said Ishraf, who made his 15s debut for Singapore in 2013.

"I don't know if I'm really a key player for the team as everyone says, but I had a good season last year in the Asian Sevens Series.

"I'm one of the youngest in the team, so there's till a lot to learn.

"They call me 'Rocket' because I'm quite fast. Under 40 metres , I'm probably the fastest in the team."

The former Raffles Institution and Republic Polytechnic student has had a tough schedule to deal with the past three months, juggling both full-time National Service with the police and daily rugby training sessions.

But it is that level of commitment which has impressed team manager Clarence Lam.

"Ishraf missed three months of training because of NS, but he came back even hungrier. He's got the desire to play and succeed," Lam said.

"On the field, he's creative, dares to express himself and is always willing to have a go.

"People are going to notice him at the SEA Games tournament, for sure."


This article was first published on April 18, 2015.
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