After last year’s snooze-fest, can a firing Fiji give Singapore Sevens the Hong Kong buzz it’s never had?
While the Lion City is normally an afterthought, this year’s scheduling change because of the Commonwealth Games means big guns will be blazing at the weekend
Spending a weekend at last year’s Singapore Sevens just days after feeling the full force of the Cathay Pacific/HSBC Hong Kong Sevens was like the night I had to work behind the bar during my mate’s buck’s party.
I was present, it wasn’t necessarily all that bad and I was sure to feel better the next day, but deep down I knew I wasn’t part of the real action.
Compared to Hong Kong, last year’s Singapore Sevens was a snooze but 2018 might be the year the Lion City begins to close the cavernous gap on its regional rivals.
In its third year back since a 10-year hiatus from the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series, Singapore is fully embracing its “Family Sevens” billing – is that a self-appointed title? – with family packages, Hasbro brands The Transformers and My Little Pony and a FunZone just for kids.
On that alone, organisers are claiming 52,000 fans will stream through the gates – a 53 per cent increase on last year’s 34,000 punters – and if last year told me anything, it’s that the family approach is Singapore’s best bet. It’ll never be a party like Hong Kong.
The Village People will be there to entertain the grown-ups while the kids lose it to performances by The Superdudes, but it could be one thing oft forgotten around sevens that is Singapore’s trump card – the rugby itself.
In the past two years, Singapore has come the weekend after Hong Kong and, with teams on the way down from the high brought on by the home of sevens, the powerhouses have been far from their best.
That Canada won last year and Kenya in 2016 is proof of this.
But not this time – with Hong Kong being held the week before the Commonwealth Games and teams prioritising the latter, Singapore shapes up as the best tournament of the trio.
The biggest drawcard in the world of sevens will be leading the way – after falling in the final of the Games, Fiji have picked a squad featuring 10 of the players that coasted to victory at Hong Kong Stadium this month.
Add their disappointment on the Gold Coast to the fact they are only three points off South Africa at the top of the standings after winning three of the last four legs and Fiji will be positively champing at the bit.
Not to mention the Blitzboks, who are desperate to secure back-to-back series wins after copping endless flak for bringing an academy side to Hong Kong.
Throw in a New Zealand outfit full of confidence after winning gold and the USA and Argentina fresh from a three-week break and Singapore is likely to be treated with the best display of rugby the city has seen.
— HSBC Singapore Rugby Sevens (@SgRugby7s) April 9, 2018
But the real questions are: can the city capitalise, and does anyone actually care about rugby there?
“We want the Sevens very much. It’s a fantastic event and there’s a lot of potential to be reaped still,”
Singapore Sports Institute chief Toh Boon Yi told The Straits Times this week.
Toh would say only that the government is willing to invest a “significant amount” to keep the event in Singapore, but if it is to reap the rewards of this outlay it has to find a way to get people to buy in.
As engaging as The Transformers and The Superdudes sound, to fill the 55,000-seat National Stadium they are going to need a little more than gimmicks for kids, and it’s set to be handed to them on a plate.
While it’s likely the scheduling will go back to normal next year and Singapore will be left with the hangover from Hong Kong, now is the time to make hay while Fiji, the Blitzboks & Co. are in full flight and putting on the sort of show that is normally reserved for Hong Kong on the Asian swing.
The 52,000 fans are in for a treat this weekend and if it doesn’t have a lasting impact, maybe sevens and Singapore really aren’t meant to be and the second divorce could come as soon as when the current deal expires in 2019.