Singapore to launch Super Rugby bid

All blacks stars Daniel Carter and Richie McCaw, as well as South Africa captain Jean de Villiers could be making regular trips to Singapore, as it bids to become the first Asian country to host a Super Rugby franchise.

The Singapore Rugby Union (SRU) has confirmed its interest in fielding a professional team in the prestigious Southern Hemisphere competition when it expands from 15 to 18 clubs in 2016.

"We have signalled our intent and are working very closely with external partners to ensure Super Rugby comes to Singapore," SRU vice-president Jonathan Leow told The Straits Times on Thursday.

"We hope to use this to develop Singapore rugby."

Bidding is expected to begin in three months' time to join the elite 15-a-side competition, which is currently made up of five clubs each from the rugby powerhouses of Australia, New Zealand and South Africa.

A sixth South African side and a new club from Argentina will fill two of the new spots, leaving one place up for grabs.

Japan has long been regarded as the favourite to represent Asia while Hong Kong has also been linked, owing to its successful sevens history. However, sources say that Singapore's ambitious plans for the sport have moved it into pole position.

The SRU has already confirmed that the new 55,000-seater National Stadium will stage the inaugural World Club 10s championship in June. It will also bid to be a part of the Sevens World Series in 2015-16 and host the 2018 World Cup Sevens tournament.

To assemble the new professional outfit, the union is teaming up with Hong Kong-based Carinat Sports Marketing, which owns Asia Pacific Dragons, an invitational side that showcases the region's best players.

At least a third of the players are expected to be from Asia, and that includes home-grown Singaporeans.

As local players may not be ready for the elite game in two years' time, the SRU aims to beef up its national league to a semi-professional level. This league will, hopefully, then be able to supply talented players for the Super Rugby team.

SRU president Low Teo Ping said: "We want the top players who are based here for the Super Rugby team to mentor our local boys and run regular training sessions from school level up to national level."

The new side could make their debut here as early as November for a glamour friendly against the Maori All-Blacks.

While the National Stadium in the Kallang Sports Hub will host most of the side's home matches, officials are also looking to hold some Super Rugby games in neighbouring cities like Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur.

The series currently runs from February to August - which could change with expansion - and adopts a home-and-away, mini-league format similar to the National Basketball Association (NBA).

Said avid rugby fan Aaron Koh, 45: "It's about time Singapore has a rugby club that competes regularly at a high level.

"It makes more sense than one-off glamour matches that have little long-term benefit for the sport locally."

The last two Super Rugby editions were won by the Chiefs from New Zealand, who boast current All Blacks like Liam Messam, Aaron Cruden and Mils Muliaina. The competition is expected to expand even further in 2021 to incorporate more teams from Asia and North America.

nsanjay@sph.com.sg


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