HSBC Singapore Rugby Sevens: How the Lion City became the cornerstone of world rugby

The HSBC Singapore Rugby Sevens that kicks off this weekend plays an important role in the growth of the sport in the country and region.

It was initially conceived in 2001-02 as one leg of the IRB World Sevens Series featuring the best international rugby nations. Traditional rugby powerhouses New Zealand emerged victorious in the inaugural tournament and would once again reign supreme in 2003-04. Fiji would then up the ante in 2005-06 to take pole position.

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Those initial years of the tournament were then followed by a considerable lull in proceedings as Singapore would only be afforded the rights to host their own Rugby Sevens tournament next in 2013. This time, however, the exciting format returned as part of the Asian Seven Series featuring the best teams from the continent.

But it was only after that that the Singapore Sevens truly came into its own.

On the back of signing a four year deal to host a leg of the World Sevens Series from the 2015-16 season, the tournament transformed from just a sporting event to a full-blown family extravaganza that catered to people of all age groups and dispositions.

From rugby clinics conducted by international coaches, meet-and-greet sessions with popular animated characters to an unforgettable experience of the buzzing Singaporean night life at Clarke Quay, the two-day event had something for everyone to sink their teeth into.

And the improvements made in the holistic planning and organization that went into the event also extended to the players, as the creation of the players’ village at the OCBC arena allowed the visiting teams to enjoy some much-needed down time in the midst of all the activity.

As a result of all these developments to compliment the on-field action, the Singapore Sevens made massive headway in being ranked as one of the top legs in the World Rugby’s tournament evaluation last year. After being ranked 9th in 2015-16 and 2016-17, it finished in second spot, just 0.2 points behind the Vancouver leg in 2017-18.

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Notably, it was also rated as the best Asian tournament, pipping Hong Kong in the rankings.

“Our task was to put the Singapore Sevens back on track to be one of the leading lights of the series. We centred our event on family fun, which differentiated Singapore from the other venues,”  said Singapore Rugby Union (SRU) president Terence Khoo to the Strait Times.

“There were many areas of improvement as we dug deep and devoted manpower and resources into running the event to ensure the player and team experience were better than before.”

Unsurprisingly, the country recently penned a new deal with World Rugby that will see them continue hosting a leg of the Sevens Series until 2023.

Ultimately though, despite all of the entertainment elements that have attached themselves two day event, the rollicking on-field action very much remains central to the success of the Singapore Sevens.

Underdog victories for Kenya, Canada and a ridiculous last-gasp smash and grab from Fiji against Australia in the previous three editions of the tournament has seen a groundswell of interest in the sport in the region.

“To have an event like this, and run it well, will help to motivate and inspire the next generation of rugby players and grow interest in the sport as Singaporeans get to watch world-class athletes up close,” said Khoo.

Last year’s tournament was watched by around 55,000 fans and this year, the Singapore Sevens to be conducted on April 13 and 14 is expected to pull in even more eyeballs; further establishing its status as one of the premier rugby tournaments in the world.