Rugby: Stadium edge for Singapore

The glittering new National Stadium at the Sports Hub could give Singapore and the Asia Pacific Dragons the edge over Hong Kong in the bid to join the 2016 Super Rugby competition.

Jon Phelps, managing director of Carinat Sports Marketing, which owns the Dragons, said Singapore was better equipped than Hong Kong, who have also expressed their interest in joining the most prestigious 15-a-side club tournament in the southern hemisphere.

Phelps was speaking to The New Paper yesterday after the announcement that top French rugby outfit Biarritz Olympique were the latest club to confirm their participation in the inaugural World Club 10s here from June 21 to 22.

FRENCH CHAMPIONS

The 14-time French champions, with internationals Dimitri Yachvili and Damien Traille on their books, will join Australian powerhouses Brumbies and the Dragons in the competition, the first to be held at the new stadium in Kallang.

Former All Blacks scrum half, Justin Marshall, was also unveiled as the tournament's ambassador at the press conference at Asia Square Tower 1.

Should the Dragons get the nod, the team will use the new 55,000-seater stadium - set to open its doors in June - at the Sports Hub as its home base.

Phelps emphasised that Singapore's location and facilities make the Republic a better choice for Super Rugby.

"The league runs from February to August, and that schedule works better for Singapore because there's the rainy season in Hong Kong," he explained.

"The new stadium, which will be superb, is also a big factor, especially with its retractable roof.

"But, first, (Super Rugby's governing body) SANZAR has to decide if they want an Asian team in the league.

"We haven't heard anything formally, but if there is an opportunity, we're very keen to be that team."

In February, the Singapore Rugby Union (SRU) confirmed an agreement with Carinat to field a professional team in Super Rugby for 2016, when the competition expands from 15 to 18 clubs.

Currently, the league is made up of five clubs each from rugby powerhouses Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. A sixth South African side and a new club from Argentina have filled two of the new spots, leaving one place up for grabs.

Besides the Singapore-based Dragons, Hong Kong and Japan have also expressed interest in joining the league and the bid process is expected to kick off in June.

A Japanese side would probably have been favourites to win the bid, considering the country's standing as Asia's No. 1 and the fact that they will host the 2019 Rugby World Cup. But, according to sources, interest there has cooled.

Marshall, who played for New Zealand's Crusaders from 1996 to 2005 - the competition was then known as the Super 15s - said "it made perfect sense" for the league to open its doors to an Asian team.

"Asia is a big part of world rugby, but it has been operating only in its own network; world rugby needs it to expand," said Marshall, capped a record 81 times as scrum half for the All Blacks.

"I left Super Rugby because I needed a new challenge, different venues, different opposition.

EVOLVE

"The league hasn't changed since then, so here's a chance for it to evolve."

For now, the Dragons' are focused on the World Club 10s, which Phelps believes has the potential to be bigger than last week's Hong Kong 10s.

He explained: "We chose June because it's when the northern hemisphere teams are in pre-season, and when the Super Rugby teams are on month-long break.

"That allows them a window to come here and play. We are looking towards getting one team each from England, New Zealand and South Africa."

The remaining five teams at the tournament are expected to be named by the end of next month.

World Club 10s

WHERE: National Stadium, Singapore Sports Hub

WHEN: June 21 to 22

TEAMS: Asia Pacific Dragons, Brumbies (Australia), Biarritz Olympique (France). Five more sides to be announced soon.

KETS: $40 a day or $70 for a two-day pass. Free admission for children under 12 years.

*Safra members can enjoy a special one-day ticket price of $15, while players from local rugby clubs or school teams receive a 20 per cent discount off the daily ticket.

Visit www.worldclub10s.com to receive details of the promotion.

aakasim@sph.com.sg

This article was published on April 2 in The New Paper.

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