Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Low Down on the 2007 SMU ringEmail 7s

The much awaited ringEmail SMU 7s kicked off on a solemn note, as fans and players gathered to observe a moment of silence as we mourned for yet another All Blacks defeat in the World Cup. Some took more extreme measures such as quitting from the tournament or possibly quitting from playing rugby altogether, such as Wolfpacks – but that’s another story for another time.

The tournament promised to bring the very best 7s rugby in the nation and it certainly didn’t disappoint. With a full capacity crowd at the Yio Chu Kang Stadium, the crowd woke up to witness a depleted NUS side versus SRC Young Guns. NUS was reported to have had 3 players five minutes before the game and was considering giving a walk-over to SRC Young Guns before two more players arrived - late from the mourning of the All Black’s defeat. Despite the obvious numerical disadvantage, the ‘5 a-side’ NUS squad got the crowd going wild when they still managed to outdo the SRC Young Guns to come away with a narrow victory, sending a stern warning to other contenders that they were a force to be reckoned with throughout the tournament.

Pool A

In pool A, which was also known to be the ‘Group of Death’, the crowd saw both tournament favorites NUS and Red dot Rebels (aka as Jonty’s mystery team) dominate and carve out their opponents like a hot knife cutting through butter, displaying some very fine skill and pace to score some very brilliant tries. When the two sides faced off, it was nothing other than a close affair, with both teams hoping to come away with a win to finish top of the Pool, both hoping to avoid Pool B’s expected winners – SMU A. Eventually, the Red dot Rebels which boasted an uncountable number of National players bagged the victory when one of NUS 4 loaned players shot a ‘bullet pass’ into his teammate’s face, allowing the Red dot Rebels to pick up and score the easy try under the post to book their place in the Cup Semi-finals. Apart from the fine display of 7s the Red dot Rebels provided us, much attention surrounded the questionable ‘man-on-man’ tendency that the team showed off the field. The Pool A winners were spotted having to spend more time and energy helping each other put on and take off their jerseys than warming up – which apparently brought much to the delight of some male spectators and certainly their player-manager, Jonty. (Yes, it’s strange, but it’s true.)

'Happy' male spectators looking on

Pool B

In the other pool, teams featured included Republic Poly(RP), Temasak Poly(TP), NTU, SRC old farts and SMU A. The tournament witnessed its first upset when 2006 IVP 7s finalist suffered a costly defeat in the hands of the SRC old farts, which left NTU needing nothing less than a win against SMU A to secure a berth in the Cup Semi-finals. But it was not to be for the Boon Lay Warriors, as SMU A was in a less than empathetic mood, and put them to the sword scoring 4 tries to 2, forcing NTU down to the Bowl Competition and further emphasizing to the rest of the teams that SMU A meant business. However despite the ferocious encounter between the two sides, who shared much history of rivalry it was great for the fans to watch as the two teams formed up a tunnel and exchanged handshakes and jerseys after the match, displaying the true spirit of the game.

No love lost between old AC team-mates

The tournament had to endure random moments of CAT 1 status (heavy rain/lighting/thunder) causing stoppages between matches, but that certainly did not dampen the spirit of the competition, as the crowd started to turn their eyes to the beer girls walking around and getting nothing more than lousy pick up lines. Rumor has it, the only beers that the ladies sold were to the SMU team, and for all that it is worth, the grapevine speculates that the City boys got their own fair-share of ‘special benefits’ from the beer girls later that day.

After a grueling morning of competition, the tournament pool standing finished as shown below,

Pool A

1st SMU A
2nd SRC Old Farts
3rd NTU
4th Temasak Poly (TP)
5th Republic Poly (RP)

Pool B

1st Red dot Rebels

2nd NUS

3rd Tamoko Lions

4th SMU B

5th SRC Young Guns

Bowl Competition

In the Bowl Competition, we saw another SMU team lock horns with NTU once again. This time SMU B took on NTU in the first Semi-Finals and put up a brave performance. Brilliant tries from SMU’s multi-talented winger Lionel Kong and SMU’s only foreign import from Zimbabwe, Tafadzwa L Marasha caused much panic in the hearts of the Boon Lay Warriors. However, it was not to be for the City boys, as missed conversions from in front of the post by Lionel Kong and Josiah Goh from the side proved to be the deciding factor on the score board as NTU won by the slightest of margins to advance to the Bowl finals with a score of 12-10.

In the Bowl Finals, NTU easily brushed off Tamoko Lions 24-0 to emerge as Bowl Champions. After their victory at the press conference, player/manager Qing only had kind words of praises for his Boon Lay Warriors, attributing their success to the good team spirit they showed throughout the tournament and felt they could have done a lot better if not for the absence of key players like Adam Mat Solo who sustained a knee injury a week before the tournament, and Emery Ong who could not be present for the tournament as he was speculated to be busy endorsing a new sponsorship with Subaru over the weekend.

The Big talking point

Cup Semi Finals brought the crowd to their feet as one of the biggest matches of the day took place in the late afternoon, when NUS took on SMU A in the first Semi Finals. The two teams were heard to be very uneasy competing against each other for various reasons. It was well-established that the two teams were made up of very close friends, but this match did not hold back any punches. SMU A drew first blood when a well worked move by Daniel Marc Chow saw him putting skipper Amos Siow into space to score in the corner. A minute later, Vice Captain Lionel “robber’ Poh extended the City Boys’ lead to 10-0 when he sped past a series of defenders running 40metres to score. Amos added the conversion to bring the score to 12-0. At this point, the City boys looked comfortable of booking their place in the Cup finals, but NUS had other ideas.

The NUS boys came back in the second half putting the SMU’s defense to the test. Eventually it paid off when loaned-player Josiah Peh(SAFSA) brushed off two tackles to score a crucial try for them. The conversion was good and brought the score to 7-12.

The SMU boys were not about to panic and hit back with answers of their own, putting NUS on all sorts of defensive pressure. Then in the 10th minute all hell broke loose. A beautiful worked move saw a series of passes and offloads interchanged between the SMU backline, putting Justin “Project Superstar’ Lum over the try line, for the five-pointer. However, the try was not awarded as the referee took a long look at it and ruled that the Project Superstar had not grounded the ball to score the try and had stepped out of the try-zone onto the dead ball line.

Try or no try?

With that decision being made, the referee, in a moment of frenzy, allowed play to carry on, as NUS playmaker Mohd Raihan grabbed the ball off J.Lum ,who was still lying in the try area and began to run past a very bewildered SMU team who were expecting for either a 5 meter scrum or 22-dropout – the unexpected ruling resulted in an unopposed try scored by NUS. The conversion was good and brought the score to 14-12, causing a desperate SMU A to dig deep to try to undo the damage.

In the dying minutes of the game, the City Boys threw all they had at the NUS defense, countless line breaks were made, but moments of desperate defense by the NUS boys always saw the SMU’s attack stop short at the very last second. In the end, as the final whistle was blown, a very dejected SMU team fell to their knees and pondered what could have been, as the Yio Chu Kang crowd witnessed one of the biggest upsets of the tournament.

During the post-match conference, NUS skipper Shafiq Zulazmi(below) commented about the controversial referee decision,

“Whether it was try by him (Justin) or not, I am not sure. But the referee made a fundamental error and we profited from it. I thought it was supposed to be a 5-metre scrum or a 22-drop out to us, but when I saw Raihan running with the ball and the referee waving play on, I just went with the flow...”

When asked about whether he felt it was a fair result for NUS, the skipper was empathetic and humble in victory,

“Well it certainly was a surprising result, we never thought we would come here to put one over SMU, so it was an upset, though marred with controversy…no one likes to see these things happen in games, especially in a Semi-finals. However, we’re lucky it happened to our benefit and I’m proud of how the boys came back to come away with the win.”

This upset saw NUS progress to the Cup finals to face the Red dot Rebels and SMU A to face SRC old farts in the Plate finals.

Plate Competition

In the plate competition, SRC old farts, who were made up of many former national players came into the tournament sending out strong messages to the other teams - that despite spotting some receding hairlines and questionable bellies, they were players with a wealth of experience on their side and still had an engine function-able of keeping up with the younger boys in the tournament. This was especially evident in their Group stages when they created an upset against NTU and made SMU A work for their victory. However, in this repeated clash against SMU A, the fatigue started to show in the SRC side as they took on a dejected SMU A who was still trying to pick up the pieces from the unexpected early exit of the Cup tournament earlier that day.

However, the SMU boys showed much character and got off to a flying start with Alex Ong bagging two individual tries in the first half to put the City boys in a comfortable lead. In the end, SMU proved to be the stronger and fitter side between the two and ran away easily with the victory against SRC old farts to bag a piece of silverware for the City Campus.

When approached by SMUrugby News reporter, skipper Amos Siow still could not hide his disappointment from the dramatic exit they suffered in the Cup Semi-finals,

“Winning the plate competition is good, but it certainly wasn’t what we had planned for. We came here to win (the cup competition) and finish undefeated, but some times some things are beyond our control…Nevertheless, I am proud of the effort shown by the boys and the unbelievable support we got from our fans.”

Cup Competition

After a long day of tournament, the crown was to be battled between Red dot Rebels and NUS who squared off earlier that day in the group stages, with Red dot Rebels coming away with the victory.

The action was fast and furious from start to finish, as the crowd was entertained by the supreme skill and defense shown by both teams. The score line swung to the Red dot Rebels when their speedy winger raced past NUS to score easily in the corner. With Suhami aka Tsunami slotting it home from 35metres out, to give the side a 7-0 lead.

NUS were not to be outdone, when inspirational skipper Shafiq Zulazmi scored a very “Shafiq-like” try running from 5 meters out and dummying his 4 players who were in support out wide to touch down. The conversion was good and brought the score leveled to 7-7.

But with everything to play for, Red dot Rebels struck yet again through their winger to put the score into perspective with Suhami dissecting the posts yet again, stretching the score to 14-7.

NUS led by their Blonde haired and mercurial captain, who had bright boots to match the hair, proved why they are the top rugby university in Singapore as they turned on the style, with Captain Shafiq scoring two quick tries in the dying minutes of the game to bring the score to 17-14.

However, with seconds to go and with the victory almost in the bag for NUS, a dubious decision by the referee penalized NUS for ‘playing the ball on the ground’, when the tackler was seen to be contesting for the ball on his feet. Red dot Rebels wasted no time and seize their opportunity in unleashing one last attack, putting their speedy winger into space once again to race past NUS’s defense to score the match winning try – the final score was 19-17 with the Red dot Rebels crowned the 2007 SMU ringEmail 7s Cup Champions.

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