ANATOMY OF A WINNING TEAM

I have been asked by a few parents to pen my thoughts with regards to the achievements of the U13 team in the National Schools Rugby Tournament. I have had the privilege of taking pictures of these young boys and also seeing them grow up from literally, ah boys to fine young men.

Some of the boys, like Jiawei, Sachi and Richard, played with my son, Isaac, 2 years ago in the U11 tournament. Only to fall to Saints in the Quarter Finals that year. Last year, they raised their game in the U11 tournament and yet again, came up second best in the semi finals of the U11 tournament, to a Saints team who can be described as more street wise than our lads. That time, the lads fell to a sucker punch of a short kick which barely cleared the required 5 meters, ultimately leading to a golden try in extra time. This year in in Bintang, they were the only team to beat Sai Kung Stingrays, the eventual winners at the BRC Tournament 2013. The effort unfortunately taking it emotional toll on the lads, and they fell to a surprising defeat to Bintang BRC in the Bowl Final.

However, to their credit, the boys took all these defeats and knocks in their stride. They learnt from their mistakes, and grew stronger and closer as a result of it. There were many punches thrown against them in Bintang, particular from the overseas teams, but our lads play rough and tough, but fair. Each knock just served to temper the steel which would form the foundation of this band of brothers.

When they scythed through the opponents 192-0 in the group stages, nobody batted an eyelid. Everyone, Saints included, was looking to stay away from ACSJ as long as possible. For our lads, the semi final match against Saints was THEIR mental final. They had never beaten or even drawn against Saints before. When they took to the pitch against Saints, the question was on everyone’s mind, especially the parents and teachers, can they really fulfill their destiny? The look on every single player was that of resolution, and determination. The game face was on.

Saints never knew what hit them. A flurry of Blue and Gold hit them in waves. Forwards tackled and rucked, creating openings for the fleet-footed backs to exploit. There was only a short moment of doubt, when Saints equalized following a couple of missed tackles down the left flank. There was no panic, the machine merely shifted up a gear, with Richard Goo, gaining at least half the pitch, before Joshua Ng slammed home the second try. Half Time 14-7.

Saints never recovered in the second half. The ACSJ lads never gave an inch, and took plenty. In fact, the score would have been greater if the ref had not rules 2 good looking moves as ‘held up’. In the end, it was speed demon, Jia Wei who sealed the deal with another breakaway try, to banish all lingering doubts. With the final whistle, there were tears of joy and crying aplenty from the lads. They knew they had played a good game. They knew Saints could not match their power and speed.

The final against Endeavor was a bit of a let down. The body language of the Endeavor boys showed they were glad to be in the finals. The ACSJ boys were professional in their play, dispatching Endeavor 38-7 in a fairly lopsided final. It was heartening to see the ACSP boys, who finished 5th overall, rush into the field to hug and congratulate our boys. A beginning of a lasting playing relationship to both these sets of boys.

When the dust actually settled, Betty Lim, past PSG chairperson, asked me, how do we replicate this? What can we do to make this possible again? I mean, we have never entered the finals, let alone win the Nationals before. This title that Coach Adrian, in his years of experience, has never won before, the other being the U11 National Title). This led me to think a little deeper, into what was the makeup, or rather, the Anatomy of a Winning Team in School Rugby.

I gave it some thought, and perhaps I can allude to a few things that went right for us. Firstly, we were very fortunate to have a group of 15 individuals, at least 12 core, who were already naturally athletic. They could run, they could tackle, and they had ball sense. More importantly, you need these lads to be able to gel together, to be able to read the minds of each other, and if need be, put the body in the line of fire for each other. The bunch that we have in the U13 team, had all that, and then some. It definitely helped that they spent plenty of time together, on and off the field.

Next, you had a bunch of coaches who not only knew the fundamentals, but in Coach Jesper (Encik) Lim, you had had someone who, short of having a Psychology degree behind his MBA, knew the boys inside out. You had someone who knew what was going on inside the boys head even before they put up their hand. He was one person who molded the minds of the boys. In Coach Colin Lee, you have an old boy who was a player in ACSJ just like them. A role model. AND these boys need a role model. Someone whose footsteps they can aspire to follow. In Coach Adrian, you have someone who has been there, done that, and knows how to pick the winners. Someone who studies the videos to devise methods of beating the opponents.

Thirdly, you need dedicated teachers. In Mrs Soo and now, Ms Chen, as teacher in charge, they set the tone with regards to discipline. In the many trips overseas, the rules of behaviour and rules of engagement were drummed into their heads. Discipline was always top of the list. Without discipline, our lads will become loose cannons. With ability and power comes responsibility. That has been well ingrained by our teachers. With them working hand in hand with the coaches, we need never worry that our boys are in bad company or danger of straying.

Fourth, you need unwavering support from the parents. I mentioned it the other day, and I will say it again. When a boy in the family plays rugby, the whole family is involved. Transport, laundry, medical attention, keeping an eye on the homework, financial outlay for overseas trips, boots and other equipment, i.e., mouth guards, head gear, sports gear, food, drinks, cold towels etc. The logistical support behind every player will please every military G4, right, Hugh Lim?

Finally, you need to have faith. Faith in God. For those who are wavering on this, think back to the South Zone finals. Was that lightning break a stroke of luck? Maybe. But when Someone up there follows it up with a performance by ACSP which stunned everyone out there, maybe it is time to start believing. When Saints again landed in our laps in the semis, God was again giving the boys a chance to prove to themselves that they were made of sterner stuff. I am very happy that before and after each match, Coach Adrian leads the kids in prayer, thanking God for a good game and the safety of every player. Only when we trust and put our faith in God, will our prayers be answered. No doubt it might be answered in a way different way from how we want it, but God in his infinite wisdom always has the BIG picture in hand. On hindsight, losing the semis last year to Saints, was a bitter and tough pill to follow. However, it might have been the right medication for our boys to swallow. They knew after that, how much more they had to improve to beat not only Saints, but every other opponent in their age group. No more leaving it to extra time. Get it done during regulation time.

So the curtain draws to a close on this amazing chapter. We hope that the U13 lads will be able to play together as a team again. Be it in Barker or in Independent. From now till then, they have to be disciplined in grinding out results on the academic field just like when they were on the rugby pitch. Perhaps, some boys need more help than others, and here is also where teachers might have to step in to give the lads whatever extra assistance they might need. Maybe, extra classes for ruggers arranged by Ms Chen, with the blessings of principal, Mrs Koh, of course. That said, wherever our boys go, as long as it is within the ACS Family, they will be in good hands. The onus now is for all parties to come together again and plan forward for the future. That is the only way, ACSJ rugby will continue to extend the golden period it is currently enjoying.

More photos can be seen here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/tanyongkuan/sets/72157633214646152/with/8664914353/

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