The word “Sports” for me conjures up not so pleasant memories of being a walking ball magnet. PE classes were the stuff of my nightmares. Being uncoordinated and chubby kid that I was, the humiliation was further compounded by the fact that no matter what I was doing or where I was if there was a ball in the vicinity it would find its way to me. Sitting on the benches while talking to my friend? A ball would hit the side of my face. After school and walking along the basketball court with my friends? For some reason the ball perfectly collided with my uhm…lower midsection (and yes, it hurt). Every single time I kid you not, no exceptions – even ping pong balls had something against me.
I was so discouraged by my lack of skill and fear of balls that I just didn’t develop an interest in participating or being a fan of any sport. I tried to be interested in watching boxing, wrestling, basketball and even ice hockey but I was just not feeling it. Nothing struck me as exciting. Not until four months ago when Youtube introduced me to Rugby. Or specifically, when a clip of the New Zealand All Blacks’ performing a haka piqued my interest in Rugby. Since then, I’ve been slowly studying the game – watching videos (I’ve watched Japan’s defeat of South Africa in the 2015 World Cup for four times) , following rugby news and social media, downloading apps, studying the different forms and tournaments, and of course checking the team rankings. I even bought and read former All Blacks Dan Carter’s book (Amazon Affiliate Link). And read it in one sitting. I was consumed by Rugby.
So imagine my delight when I found out that the 2016 HSBC World Rugby 7s had a Singapore leg! I just had to be there! To feel the energy at the stands and of course to watch the game with my very own eyes. Last weekend, 16-17 April despite being sick I dragged myself to the National Stadium at the Sports Hub to attend my first (and hopefully one of many) Rugby 7S tournament.
I stumbled on Rugby by myself and I didn’t have any friends who shared my interest. I also failed to entice any of them to convert as a fan, I decided to go by myself. I think it was weird for the people beside me because one of them asked me with an amazed tone if I came alone. But I enjoyed myself despite the fact that I was feeling sick. In fact, I didn’t even finish the first day matches because I was too weak and felt that I was going to faint any moment. My eyes were dry and I was feeling lightheaded so I went home in the afternoon.
If I went with a friend I think I would have enjoyed more of the dancing and singing during the breaks. I was just sitting there like an awkward turtle swaying my head to the music. It would have struck me as pathetic but I was just happy to be finally watching a game live than to feel sorry for myself being alone. Oh but did I tell you? Remember me being a ball magnet? Well I don’t know how many times the wandering beach ball hit my body, but the first time ever it hit me squarely in the head! And it hurt a little bit, or maybe it was just my unguarded pride that was hurt. Anyway the beach ball kept being tossed around in my section that sometimes I was distracted from the game by trying to avoid it!
Since it was my first time I went with all the preparation I would usually do for a job interview. I checked out how to go to the venue, made sure I had my portable phone charger all juiced up, cleared memory from my phone so I could take photos and videos, brushed up on my knowledge of how to play Rugby 7s and briefly familiarised myself with the teams and the players. But since there were 16 teams, I only focused on my faves (which will prove to disappoint me) – first is the team which introduced me to rugby New Zealand, Fiji, Australia and South Africa.
A SERIES OF STUNS AND SHOCKS
The first day was the preliminaries for each of the four pools. After South Africa’s win against Scotland, I was excited to finally see the All Blacks in action but boy was I in for a series of shocks. The New Zealand All Blacks was absolutely buried by France, I was already surrounded by chants of Allez Les Bleus! that I couldn’t help but clap for the stunning 24-0 win. I realised that there might have been something in the Singapore air /water/whatever-it-is because a little later Argentina beat Australia, Japan beat Wales and the most shocking of all the reigning champions Fiji were defeated by Samoa 14-28.
I felt like I entered an alternate universe when I went into the stadium. I decided that for that weekend only I was not going to play favourites and just cheer for whoever was holding the ball. My poor heart and mind could not compute what was going on. I went through a fairly quick process of denial straight to acceptance.
There were a lot of moments that I feel grateful I was there in person to witness. The funniest and surprising one was this:
Yes, a referee taking an offload. It was funny and at the same time frustrating. The comedic timing was impeccable but it broke the momentum of the play.
During the finals between Fiji and Kenya, I could feel that history being written. Kenya was just on fire from the start until the end. The whole Singapore leg felt like it had a David vs Goliath theme, it was very inspiring to see the lesser favoured teams just rise up to the challenge. Although I bought the ticket in the hopes of seeing any of my faves win the cup, I was happy cheering on for Kenya during the finals!
The speed, strength and strategy displayed by the players left me starstruck. There were a lot of times when I asked myself if the human body could really do those things that they did. I remember during the Shield Semi Finals when Vladimir Ostroushko was down for a few moments, got his head wrapped up and continued playing like nothing happened. He was then sporting a matching red wrap around his head for the next match. I can only imagine the abuse their bodies go through but they can still shrug it off and play.
I walked away with a newfound admiration for Seabelo Senatla, every time he is on the field I just watch him. Although he may not be the fastest Sevens player, his combined speed and athleticism are so brilliant! I also will be looking out for more of team Kenya. They have proven themselves as rising stars of the Rugby Sevens tournament.
Since it was my first ever Rugby 7s game and all my previous experience was watching matches from the comfort of my own home I didn’t know what went on in between breaks. There were a lot of singing and dancing, an atmosphere of revelry that some sports fans must be familiar with but it was all new to me! The songs I liked most were Hey Baby and Sweet Caroline. I wish I could have taken a video but by then my phone was dying but when Sweet Caroline started playing everyone was standing and started singing along at the top of their lungs. Then before the chorus they raised held hands and started swaying, it was fun like I was in a concert!
I was feeling quite high after the final game and was happy with the decision to stay despite feeling unwell. I just love the game even more now. Having seen and experienced myself how exciting the matches are and how cool the fans are. I am so excited that this year the Rugby 7s will make a debut in the Olympics! Can’t wait to see the teams go for the gold. I hope that Singapore will continue to host the Rugby 7s even after the 4-year contract. But my ultimate dream? To attend the World Rugby Cup 2019 in Japan!