Japan and Argentina officially joined the Super Rugby series yesterday but Singapore, who lost in their bid to be the competition's first Asian franchise, will still benefit from a first-of-its-kind partnership.
As part of a five-year deal between the Singapore and Japan rugby unions, the Republic will send its best players for regular trials in Japan's Top League, widely regarded as Asia's premier club tournament.
The National Stadium in Kallang will also host at least three Super Rugby matches a season, starting in the second quarter of next year. The 55,000-seat facility will serve as a second home for the new Japanese outfit, who will arrive at least a week before each match to spar with the Singapore national squad.
"It's an incredible opportunity for our boys to learn from Asia's top rugby nation and be scouted by Japanese scouts," said Singapore Rugby Union (SRU) president Low Teo Ping.
"We agreed to step aside and support Japan's Super Rugby bid because of this unique agreement we have arranged thanks to our strong friendship."
Singapore players who impress during the trials will be offered professional contracts at Top League sides, which are all owned by major Japanese companies such as Sanyo and Toshiba.
A player earns about $15,000 on average for a five-month season. Stars like New Zealand All Blacks centre Sonny Bill Williams reportedly took home $1.2 million for 12 matches with the Panasonic Wild Knights last year.
"For us, even a one-year contract is a huge deal because we will be immersed in Japan's rugby culture, where training can be more intense than the games," said Singapore captain Daniel Marc Chow, 30.
As Singapore prepares to host the SEA Games rugby tournament and a leg of the Sevens World Series next year, Japan will also offer technical expertise in coaching, referees and medical support.
The 15-a-side Super Rugby series will expand from 15 to 18 clubs in 2016. Besides the new sides based in Tokyo and Buenos Aires, a sixth team has joined from South Africa, with five each from New Zealand and Australia.
This article was first published on Nov 21, 2014. Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.