Rugby: Asia Pacific Dragons aiming for more local players

SINGAPORE – The Singapore-based Asia Pacific Dragons lost 7-3 to Australia’s Western Force in their last Global Rapid Rugby match last Sunday (May 5), without a Singaporean player in their squad, but the team’s founder Jon Phelps hopes that will change when the tournament launches next year.

His goal is to bring in more local players, said the 49-year-old before their final showcase series match at Queenstown Stadium.

“Being based in Singapore is without a doubt about providing a professional rugby pathway for local players.

“If we stay here long enough, our ambitions are for Singaporean players to come, train, play and be in a professional environment which will be good for them.

“It will take some time for them to get better but they will.”

Their current squad features players from Australia, New Zealand and South Africa, and a Singapore international, 26-year-old Declan Martens.

Despite the lack of local talent in his current squad, Phelps is confident of attracting young players.

He said: “There’s a big rugby fan base here, especially in local schools like ACS (Anglo-Chinese School), St Andrew’s and Raffles who have been playing rugby for a long time.

“When you play as a kid, rugby stays in your DNA and with a professional team here, we hope they will look at us and say ‘I want to be a Dragon’.

“Young kids need to meet their heroes and if we create heroes for them who are accessible, they will want to stay in the game and be like them. This way, you get continuity as well.”

Phelps’ aim of developing the sport here dovetails with Global Rapid Rugby founder Andrew Forrest’s vision for his new tournament, which features six teams this season – including the invitational World XV.

The 58-year-old Forrest said: “I want to see a common game across Asia for children, men, women to make the community stronger and give you a sense of pride. Rugby can deliver that.

“The community binds together because people love team sports. They love the camaraderie and friendship there that you don’t get in individual sports. You get this celebration of humanity in team sports.”

The new tournament features modified rugby rules – playing time is reduced while rolling substitutions are introduced, along with the power try – a nine-point play that starts from the defensive 22m line and ends with a try scored.

Forrest said: “Making it faster will give the audience a different experience as it’s more exciting.

“And with more action in one game, I hope this becomes the grand master of Asian team sports.”

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