Festival of Rugby returns to Kuala Lumpur with hosting of HSBC A5N Division II and III tournaments at Petaling Jaya Stadium
Four new coaches at Division II level out to make their mark
[Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, June 4 2013]: HSBC Asian 5 Nations (HSBC A5N) rugby action returns to Kuala Lumpur this week with the hosting of the Division II and Division III tournaments at Stadium Petaling Jaya. The action opens on Tuesday (4 June) with the semi-finals of the Division II tournament featuring top seeds Singapore, hosts Malaysia, Iran and promoted 2012 Division III champions India.
Top seeds Singapore are out to redress their shock relegation at the hands of Chinese Taipei in 2012, a result which saw the Rugby Lions fall to their lowest spot in Asian rugby (10th) since the inception of the HSBC A5N in 2008.
The Singapore Rugby Union has assembled an experienced coaching team to address the precipitous drop in its rugby fortunes in 2013. New SRU Technical Director and national 15s coach Inoke Afeaki, (ex-captain of Tonga and the Pacific Islands and a veteran of the Wellington Hurricanes, Llanelli and Ricoh Black Rams in Japan among others) takes the coaching role for the first time in an A5N competition, supported by Assistant coach and national 7s coach James Forrester (ex-Gloucester).
“It’s not where we want to be (Division II) obviously,” said Afeaki. “The guys have been at the heights of playing against Japan, Korea and Hong Kong in Asia and that is where they want to live. And they can do it as long as things are well planned. Singapore is a busy place and we need to balance our amateur set-up with the demands of working with players who are all professionals with jobs to do and work and family commitments to meet.
“Last year, the build-up was not ideal with the domestic season ending just weeks before Division I. This year, we re-structured the League to finish a few months prior to the competition, which has allowed us to intensify our preparations,” added Afeaki.
Prior to Division II, Singapore toured Japan where they played the Japan Under-21 side as well as local clubs in Saitama. The match experience will be key for the Rugby Lions who arrive with 11 new faces in the team for the 2013 campaign, and under a new captain in Daniel Chow of Bedok Kings.
“James (Forrester) has done a great job recruiting some of the newly eligible expatriate players in the league while we are also excited to have several new local players making the step up to senior level. I think our team is really representative of the Singapore rugby scene which is how we want it to be,” said Afeaki.
Hosts Malaysia have their own score to settle after failing to capitalize on a prime opportunity to win the same competition in 2012, losing 19-22 to Thailand in last year’s Division II final also at Petaling Jaya. The frustration after spoiling the chance to close out the match against Thailand, the Malaysians knocked on at the try line in the 81st minute last year against the Thais, is still keenly felt.
The memory of the lost on the same ground in 2012 should provide inspiration for a side that doesn’t feature wholesale changes to last year’s team.
One important change to the structure is the addition of two former players into the coaching team in new head coach Mohammad Mazuri, coach of the Malaysian league champions this year NS Wanderers, and 27-cap veteran Nik Safuan Bin Ismade. Mazuri is confident that things are in place for Malaysia to go one step further than 2012 saying:
“Last year, we only lost focus in the last minute of the last match. We had many opportunities to close out the game but we didn’t take advantage. This year, our build-up has been longer and better and from top to bottom and we have the right mindset to gain promotion. Last year, the reserves failed to make the impact required but this year the difference in quality from the starters to the reserves is minimal. We have had a very competitive build-up which should help at crunch time.”
Mazuri is equally clear-eyed about Malaysia’s opponents in the opening semi-finals, Iran, saying:
“Iran is a big and physical team, particularly in the pack. We want to move their big men around the park and use our fitness and speed as our main weapons,” added Mazuri.
The Malaysians will be using six of their long-time Fijian-born nationals against Iran, including fielding a fully Fijian back row as well as at flyhalf, inside centre and wing with burly captain Mohd Syahir Asyraf taking his customary outside centre spot.
India will face Singapore in its opening semi-final, in a reprise of the first ever official test match played by the India Rugby Union back in 1988. On that occasion, India lost 85-0 and tomorrow’s semi final will offer a timely analysis of how far the team has come in the intervening years.
India also arrives in Kuala Lumpur under a new coach in Ronny Ibrahim of Sri Lanka. The team toured Colombo en route to Malaysia playing matches against some of the top club sides in Sri Lanka, newly promoted to the 2014 HSBC A5N Top 5 after winning this season’s Division I competition.
With a basic target of maintaining its Division II place after being promoted last season, India will mount its challenge with a veteran side under the captaincy of centre/fly-half Nasser Hussain, who has 10 A5N caps since 2008. However the side will be missing its first choice fullback Rohaan Sethna whose metronomic kicking has accounted for many of India’s points in the HSBC Asian 5 Nations since 2009. Sethna will be replaced at fullback by Delhi Hurricanes’ fullback Makesh Mankotia who is set to make his A5N debut.
Iran round out the coaching changes as former player Pedram Baniameriyan steps up to assume the coaching reigns, taking over a settled side that features many veterans from recent A5N campaigns. With raw talent and size to burn, the question for Iran always remains the challenge of securing enough regular international competition to enter the tournament with a chance of proceeding past the semi final stages. With its opponents in this year’s field boasting some of the best preparation to date for Division II competition, Iran’s challenge will be manifestly more difficult in 2013.
On Tuesday (June 4), Singapore will open its HSBC A5N account versus 3rd-seeds India (kick-off at 15.00) followed by Malaysia versus Iran (17.00).
On Wednesday, the Division III semi-finals will be held. Thursday is a rest day for all teams, with the combined 3rd/4th place relegation games for Division II and III on Friday (June 7).
The Division II and III finals (promotion matches) will be held on Saturday, June 8. The Division III champions will be promoted to next year’s Division II tournament, while the 2013 Division II champions will join the 2014 Division I competition alongside relegated Top 5 side UAE, Kazakhstan and Chinese Taipei. Thailand was relegated from Division I this season and will round out next year’s Division II.
About HSBC and Rugby
HSBC is a long-term investor in Rugby in Asia and around the world. As well as being the title sponsor of the Sevens World Series, Asian 5 Nations and Asian Sevens Series, the bank is co-title sponsor of the Hong Kong Sevens from 2012. HSBC is the Principal Partner of all the Hong Kong rugby teams, and the British & Irish Lions, who will play in Hong Kong in 2013 en route to Australia. The bank is also the title sponsor of the Waratahs Super 15 team in Australia, the Penguin International Coaching Academy and the Cobra 10s tournament in Malaysia.
Asian Rugby Football Union (ARFU)
Marking its 45th anniversary in 2013, ARFU was founded in 1968 with 8 member unions. In the past decade its membership has trebled to 28 full and associate members. Ranging from Kazakhstan in the north to Indonesia in the south and Lebanon in the west to Guam in the east, ARFU covers a territory of over 44 million sq. kilometres and more than three billion people. ARFU is the sanctioning body for the HSBC A5N, (which doubles as the qualifying event for the Rugby World Cup), and the HSBC Asian Sevens Series, which was held for the first time in 2011. ARFU also offers international competition for women and youth across Asia.