All Smiles

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All Smiles by Dad Bear (Adrian Tan)
All Smiles, a photo by Dad Bear (Adrian Tan) on Flickr.

18/4/2013, St Andrew’s Primary School.

With the success of the U13 team in Nationals the previous day still fresh on everyone’s mind, the spotlight now shifted onto the U11 team. This team had gone through its ups and downs, given that no U11 team from ACS(J) has ever won the South Zone tournament, let alone the Nationals. So to ask them to emulate the achievements of their seniors would be tough to ask for, or was it?

A little bit of background going into the South zone tournament. With the onset of the One ACS concept, teams from ACSJ and ACSP had regular sparring sessions almost every week. In the two tournaments that the ACSJ U11 team had taken part in so far, they were slapped around, bounced around, and knocked about in the Bintang BRC tournament in KL. That tournament only served to forge the metal of the weapon that this team of quiet achievers would ultimately become. In the Standard Chartered Tournament, they played decently, but lost ultimately to eventual winners, De La Salle Primary by 0-14. Significantly, De La Salle also defeated Saint Andrews, albeit by a score of 7-14. This gave the coaches and teachers hope. The standard in ability between the rivals was razor thin. Maybe winning the South Zone was not all that impossible, just maybe.

The first match on the cards that afternoon for ACSJ was against brother school, ACSP. Both teams had their chances, but it was the ability of ACSJ team to defend the slow ball which saw them dominate at the breakdown, ultimately leading to a decisive 21-0 win. Saints in their first match, took down Pei Tong 28-0.

In the second match, ACSJ took on Pei Tong. Again, decisive breaks by the backs saw ACSJ stretch their opponents’ defence, breaching the line 3 times for a 21-0 win. In second match, Saints, took down ACSJ 28-0, setting up a winner take all finale between ACSJ and Saints.

At that very moment, I am sure all ACSJ related parent/teacher/coach started to entertain the possibility that the impossible might actually be possible again, but we didn’t dare to say anything, lest we jinx ourselves. After all, Saints are no pushovers and we were playing on their home grounds. But maybe, just maybe, in a 10 minute match, we might just pull off a miracle.

Saints struck first in the match with ACS(J), breaking away to the left which was left unattended as our players congregated near the middle. 7-0 in the opening minutes. We were facing a mountain to climb. However, using good forward play and rucking, coupled with a couple good incisive runs from the backs, in particular, Josiah, Matthew and Kaylen, the lads struck back swiftly. They equalised soon after going down and then, did the unthinkable by going forward 14-7 with some 3 minutes to play. The 3 minutes must surely by the longest 3 minutes for the parents and coaches. First, a break from midfield by saints was stopped just short of the try line. Saints try to muscle through but were repelled by the lads on the line itself. Our boys were so willing to put their bodies on the line. When the ball broke out to the Saints left, yet again, they were repelled just short of the line. When they thought that they had crossed the line, the eagle eyed ref noticed the double motion, and correctly called a penalty against Saints. Just then the horn sounded and it was an alert Kaylen who took the ball and punted it out of play, signalling a historical victory for the U11 team and also for ACSJ. Mind you, even our U13’s fell to Saints at this stage last year, when they were playing at the U11 level.

There were tears and whoops of joy from parents, teachers, coaches and of course, the players themselves. The Saints boys were stunned. They had thrown everything short of the kitchen sink at the ACSJ defence and nothing gave. This definitely augurs well for ACSJ rugby. The U11 Nationals are known for producing surprising winners. So we still much to do before scaling that next mountain. In the meantime, we should celebrate and give thanks for the many blessings that we as a school, as a CCA and as a community, have received. Not to mention, there is a small matter of finding a an unoccupied blank wall(s) in the school.

More pictures in the South Zone final can be seen here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/tanyongkuan/sets/72157633293734392/

To God be the Glory, The Best is Yet to Be.

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One Spirit, One Goal, One Family

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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/

Band of Brothers

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Band of Brothers by Dad Bear
Band of Brothers, a photo by Dad Bear on Flickr.

17th April 2012, CCAB, Singapore

It was the last game of the group stages of the National U13 Rugby 2012 tournament. In Group C of the competition, ACS(Junior) headed the table with 2 wins out of 2 and a positive point difference of +63. Damai and Bukit View (BV) were on a win and a loss each with Damai having a point difference of -14 and BV a point difference of +28. Si Ling PS were the whipping boys of the group, and Damai were licking their chops to get at Si Ling, in a bid to score as many points as possible to overcome their -14 points differential. For Bukit View, it was simple enough, win and they were through. Lose and they would have to hope that Si Ling would do them a favour, and upset Group top seeds Damai. ACSJ simply needed to avoid defeat to ensure they finished top of the group, and the reward of avoiding tournament favorites Saints in the quarter finals.

So with all the subplots clearly spelt out, we fast forward to the start of the second half. BV held a slender 2 point advantage 7-5 after ACSJ failed to convert from Janan’s try at the very end of the the first half. Firm but encouraging words were spoken at half time. The ACSJ boys emerged from the 3 minutes break with a steely look in their eyes. They knew what was at stake. They controlled their own destiny. Coach A made a tactical switch, at the start of the second half buy swapping Isaac Tan and Janan at in-centre and second row respectively. From the kickoff, the boys in gold kept up the pressure they were exerting on BV at the end of the first half. They kept their game simple, namely keep possession, keep it tight and exploit any holes in the lines with the battering ram forwards. When Isaac scored off a penalty 5m out, which was converted by Kabir with aplomb. it certainly looked good for a short while. At least until a ball was knocked out of Darshan’s hands 5m from the BV try line. The ball was then swiftly picked up by the towering BV #16. BV16 burned our backs down the left sideline and scored with 1 minute left on the clock. BV led by 2 points 14-12 when play restarted. ACSJ were staring down the barrel of defeat, despite having 80-90% of the possession in the entire match. One mistake, one knock-on, or one penalty conceded or the ball going to touch meant the end of the game. That set the stage for what must be one of the finest comeback tries I have ever seen.

BV #16, fresh from his scoring exploits, kicked the ball into the waiting arms of Kabir, deep inside ACSJ territory. With all the confidence of a seasoned campaigner, Kabir made no error with his catch and side-stepped the onrushing BV player. He was then brought down by BV who were penalised for not rolling away in the tackle. Janan then took the ball and crashed through the BV lines, gaining 10m in the process, before he was tackled and brought to ground. In the ensuing ruck, BV were penalised for offside from joining the ruck from the side. Quick-thinking Doug did not wait for BV to set their defence, tapping and running with the ball, making 5m down the left touchline. He took pains to avoid being driven out, and upon being tackled, he managed to recycle the ball to Darshan who went right but did not make much ground. Darshan passed the ball to Xander who twisted and turned but was swallowed up by the sea of white and blue BV defenders. Kabir then took over and burrowed his way forwards, making a few more metres of ground. Isaac Heng and Ben secured the ruck allowing Darshan to pick and go, making another few metres before being brought down. Janan then quickly picked up the ball and made 4 hard earned meters, before offloading the ball to Xander. Xander went wide laterally but was shadowed by BV players all the way. He then offloaded the ball to Peter who tried going wide again but decided against it as the risk of being driven out of play was very real, what with the BV#16 shadowing his every step. When Peter was tackled, the ball came out from the back of the ruck, it was loose for a few seconds but quickly seized upon by Kabir, who made 2 meters before going down. Isaac Tan then weighed in when he cleared out 2 BV players hovering over Kabir, allowing Ben to make further inroads into BV territory, before offloading to Janan, who barged his way to the 5 meter line. When Janan was brought down just shy of the line, Ben secured the ruck, allowing Ronan to dart in quickly with the ball, only to be stopped by a high tackle by BV. A quick thinking Pete, seeing Isaac Heng with fresh legs and free to the left, spun the resultant penalty ball out to IH, who then stretched his long legs, aiming for the left corner.  When he spotted a gap between BV players, Isaac Heng abruptly cut in and dived for the line, touching the ball down for a decisive try, which was greeted by spectators, parents, teachers and coaches with wild rapturous applause. The try was neatly converted by Kabir, sealing a 19-14 victory for ACSJ.

The boys from BV could not believe what was happening to them. They thought they had already won when they scored that second try to go 14-12 up when the hooter went. Many were on their knees crying in disappointment, while others just stared blankly in numbed silence. ACSJ would progress to the quarter-finals as winners fo Group C. They will play Concorde PS in the quarters. Concorde PS had earlier surprised everyone by drawing 7-7 with St Andrews in the Group stages. Damai beat Si Ling 35-7 and will play Saints in the quarters. Bukit View, no thanks to Isaac Heng’s last ditch try, were out of the competition, having been literally seconds away from victory over ACSJ.

The last play after the hooter had gone off, from the time Kabir received the kickoff, to the time Isaac Heng touched down, had taken nearly the best part of 3 minutes. That 3 minutes of keep ball and possession rugby would go down in the annals of ACSJ rugby history as THE try then showed the coming of age of this batch of P6’s, who today became men in their own right. Men who would not bow to defeat, men who would not take no for answer, and men who can close the deal. Some have only played rugby for less than a year, others longer, but they all now have the cement of experience to count upon in the years to come, be it on or off the rugby pitch. During the long winding march from one end of the pitch to the other, every player on the pitch showed up and made a decisive contribution. No one shied away from their responsibilities. There were no slackers, there were no individual stars, just 10 young men busting their guts and working for each other to get a result, and a result they certainly achieved.

Key points from today’s games:

1. The lads played to their strengths. They knew they did not have the fast big backs to play expansive rugby. They had to play ugly rugby and win with whatever they had. This bunch of players had strength and power by the ton. And they were not afraid to flaunt it!

2. Good kicking. We have much to thank for for the single pair of posts back at ACSJ. The posts and the renewed emphasis on conversion kicking has led to an increased awareness on the importance of kicking in rugby. Well done Kabir! Your percentage accuracy in the Nationals has been exemplary.

3. Experience. Going overseas and playing together as a team has a special effect on a team. It helps to gel people together. Perhaps that is the first step towards trusting each other. Playing in tournaments too allows for players to gauge their competitive level against other teams. This helps to set a benchmark for improvement over time.

4. Parental Support
Our boys are blessed with incredible support every step of the way. Like it or not, the lads will always play better when they know they have the folks rooting for them every step of the way.

5. Good weather. The cloudy overcast weather was a massive boon. If the temperature had climbed up to 32’c and above, the results might have been a little different. We must pray to God to continue to bless us with good weather on Thursday.

6. Staying healthy. While the rest of Group A and B have had 1 week plus of rest, our boys have been on the pitch longer than we would like. Let us pray that the coaches will do their magic on the boys, to get them up and about after a quick pitstop in the pool on Wednesday. On the flip side of the coin, we should not show any rustiness from inactivity come Thursday!

7. The referee had a good game. As the videos would show, he was quick to apply the advantage and also quick to penalise fouls, in particular dangerous ones like high tackles. He communicated well with the players, and had good command and control of the game.

3 matches down and more (minimum 1 and maximum 3) to come. As our Mr Kallang Roar says, we respect everyone and fear no one. Bring on Concorde Primary School this Thursday!

More pics from the games so far can be seen here at: http://www.flickr.com/photos/tanyongkuan/sets/72157629809996107/

He’s Back…………..

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He's Back.............. by Dad Bear
He’s Back………….., a photo by Dad Bear on Flickr.

20th March, 2012, CCAB, Singapore

On Matchday 7 of the B Division Rugby tournament, brother schools, ACS(I) played ACS(Barker) in the final tie of the Round Robin competition. Both teams were comfortable in the knowledge that they had progressed safely into the semi-final stages. It was a matter of final table standings, semi final opponents and maybe, bragging rights. As the positions stood at the start of play , ACS(I) was slated to play RI in the first semi final on Monday 26th March 2012, while ACS(Barker) were due to take on Saint Andrews in the second semi-final on Tuesday, 27th March 2012.

ACS(I) took the field with a strong starting XV, clearly stating their intentions to approach the game positively. On the other hand, ACS(Barker) knew that either way, they would finish 2nd or 3rd, meaning they would either play ACS(I) again in the semis if they won, or play Saints if they lost. Either way, it would be like being between a rock and a hard place. That thought likely forced Coach L’s hand, as he decided that discretion was better part of valor. ACS(Barker) rested the bulk of their first team backline, opting to give many of their seasoned veterans a rest.

ACS(I) looked edgy (as usual) on the kick-off, conceding possession deep in their own half, but solid rucking and defence saw them weather the initial uncertainty, and it was not long before the V12 engine of the ACS(I) B Div team, started to purr sweetly. ACS(I) quickly racked up a 41-0 HT lead and were eager to bring on the long awaited return of their BIG offensive weapon, Daniel Goh.

DG had been out of action since Dec 2011, with multiple fractures of the right wrist sustained in friendly match against ACS(Barker). After undergoing an operation to fix his fractures, coupled with intensive rehabilitation post-op, DG was chomping at the bit to get fit to play again before the season added. It was hence fitting that he should make his return also against ACS(Barker). Sometimes, in life what goes around, does indeed comes around.

When DG made his appearance in the second half, it was heartwarming to see him take to the field like a young Bull released from its pen. On his first carry, DG (albeit a lighter and leaner DG with the slight drop in muscle mass) smashed through the Barker lines like a hot knife through butter. He handed off no less than 3 players and left a stream of players strewn like broken dolls as he bore down inexorably on the try line. Only to be foiled when he dived for the wrong try line and knocked the ball on in the process. That is the problem when you share a field with many sports. However, that aside, parents stood up, and fellow players were seen cheering DG on as he rampaged his way down the middle of the park. Not so much just a return of a player, but a key one dearly loved by all his team mates. One who will give everything on the field, and woe befall anyone who gets in his way.

In the second half, ACS(I) swiftly ended the game as a contest, running in a total of 13 tries before the ref called the game with the scores FT 77-0.

In the earlier match, both SJI and RI took to the field knowing that only a win for either team would guarantee the final semi-final spot. Scrappy play plagued the games as both sides probed for weaknesses in the opponents defence. SJI drew first blood when they converted on a sweet drop goal 30 m out. They were unable to make much headway against the strong RI defence, and knew that kicking would be their best chance to put points on the board. RI then responded with a well taken try down the right touchline. The try was virtually presented to them on a tray by the feeble tackling of the SJI wing defence. At the stroke of halftime, RI, playing with a penalty advantage, showed that they too knew where the posts were, delivering a drop goal from 25m out which ricocheted in off the left upright. HT 10-3.

In the second half, SJI started strong and soon pulled to within 4 points with a well taken penalty, 10-6. They continued to pile on the pressure as they attacked relentlessly, only to be denied by wild RI defending, which saw RI reduced to 14 men on 2 occasions, including the last 10 minutes. The yellow cards were for a high tackle and an intentional knock on. With 5 minutes on the clock, SJI were awarded a penalty on the 22m line in front of the posts. Controversially, they elected to go for the points instead of kicking to the corner for a line out just short of the tryline. As mentioned earlier, perhaps the coach felt that even against 14 men, SJI’s best chance was to score from the boot, rather than crossing the line. The penalty was taken with aplomb, RI lead 10-9 with 4 minutes to go. However, from the kickoff, a mistake by SJI allowed RI to camp in the SJI half. Following desperate defending on the try line, it was RI who swung the ball wide to score on the opposite wing. They missed the conversion, RI leads SJI 15-9. The last play of the game started from the kickoff, and saw SJI throw everything but the kitchen sink, at RI. The forwards pounded untiringly, but made no headway, SJI used their bigger players to pierce through but were stopped by RI defenders who threw their bodies in the fray. When SJI knocked on 5 meters out, it was all over as the ref blew for time. RI progress to the semi-finals, albeit by the skin of their teeth.

So in next week’s semi final lineout, we see ACS(I) play RI in semi-final #1, and Saint Andrews play their bogey team ACS (Barker) in semi-final #2. For some reason, in recent seasons, Barker has always been able to get the better of Saints in crucial matches, like during the C Division semis last year and also at the same stage, a few years ago. We always feel that Barker has that one big game in them in every tournament, and we hope that Barker will pull off what would be a great victory in the semi-finals.

Points to take away:

1) Our boys are prone to a slow start. Perhaps they knew that Barker was fielding a weakened side, and the adrenaline of battle was not exactly flowing. However, against teams like Raffles and Saints who will bay for your blood and snap at your every mistake from the opening kickoff, there can and must not be any repeat of the slow starts against these well-seasoned opponents. From now on, it is the playoffs. Win and you are through, lose and you pack your bags. No second chance. This is it.

2) GL took over kicking duties yesterday as JC was unavailable from a bad back. a successful conversion rate of 6 out of 13 kicks (<50%) is nothing to crow about. Every kick from now on will mean something. I am sure the coaches have made this amply clear to the boys by now.

3) Our boys, especially our backs, should learn to be more “zhai”, a hokkien word which means cool, calm and calculated, not in the least frazzled. They sometimes appear to be in such a hurry to swing the ball to the wings that they seem to throw wildly. Resulting in forward passes and knock ons, giving away hard won possession back to the opponent. The cure for this is perhaps experience. Many of the lads have played in finals before, be it 15 a side or 7 a side. They must remember that to use that experience to their advantage. They must know to stick to the basics and shut out everything else. Because in the end, it is what is playing between the ears that counts. When they are in what sports psychologist call, the zone, they will be able to shut out everything else. The ball becomes bigger, the path becomes clearer. Everything becomes instinctive, and not reactionary. Our boys must strive to achieve that “ZONE”.

4) No issues with rucks and lineouts. Efficient. Only one overthrown lineout ball, but otherwise, the machine is well oiled and drilled. Credit to coaches and players.

5) With the return of DG, there will be a very interesting availability of choices for the coaches. This welcome headache will simply spell trouble for the opposition. As DG showed today, he has lost none of his fitness nor his offensive ability. We thank the Lord for his speedy recovery, and pray that He will keep the rest of the team safe and healthy in the remaining matches.

6) Republic Polytechnic is one small little plastic piece of real estate. It really does not reward strong wing play that a full sized pitch at CCAB and ACS(Independent) offers. Tactics will have to change to maximise the advantages to us. Saints have played ALL their matches in RP. Everyone else has had to play their matches at either CCAB and RP. Considering that the size of RP is about the same size as the pitch in Potong Pasir, You can be sure that Saints will be very familiar with every blade of plastic grass on the RP pitch.

7) As parents and old boys in the school, we can only hope that both ACS teams rise to the challenge and make it an all ACS final. The next 2 weeks promises to be a very interesting one indeed for ACS Rugby parents and supporters.

More pictures of the match can be seen here at:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/tanyongkuan/sets/72157629268609718/

Juggernaut

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Juggernaut by Dad Bear
Juggernaut, a photo by Dad Bear on Flickr.

6th March 2012, CCAB, Singapore

Matchday 4 (rescheduled) of the B Division Rugby Tournament saw ACS(Independent) matched up against Greenridge Secondary School.

With the backdrop of the draw against Saint Andrews, the emphasis turned not only to just winning the remaining ties, but to accumulate as many points as possible, in a bid to finish at the top of the table.

The lads were given strict instructions to go for the jugular and to hit the magic 80 point mark asap. A strong team lined up against Greenridge at kickoff. The modus operandi was simple. Win the ball, spread it wide, let the wingers burn down the tram lines. It was all business as ACS(I) raced rapidly to a 61-0 HT lead. It might have been more, if not for some wasteful kicking during the conversions.
In the second half, Greenridge were awarded a penalty just past the centre line. Greenridge elected to take a shot at goal, but pulled the kick wide. With that went their chance of breaking the egg, as ACS(I) wrapped up the tie with 3 swiftly taken tries beneath the posts.
FT 80-0 to ACS(I) by mercy rule.

Points to the match:

1) A clinical and efficient performance. Nothing spectacular or highlight reel worthy, Well worth the 80-0 scoreline. Greenridge players were clearly overawed and were asking the ref repeatedly, as to how much time was left to the end of the first half.

2) Conversion kicks were split between GL and JC. One word, inconsistent. They can nail the toughest and widest kicks, and yet miss the sitters. The best solution apart from improving kicking stats and technique, would be for the players to consciously aim to score beneath the posts, making the conversion easier.

3) There appeared to still be some doubt or lack of confidence when the ball is ‘hands’ or passed out wide quickly. There was still the occasional dropped ball, but more importantly the lack of confidence in taking the ball all the way into the end-zone. Sometimes, straight and hard running is the best answer.

4) Apart from a throw which was deemed not straight, the rest of the lineouts were efficient with nice take downs. The forwards also managed to steal a number of the Greenridge lineouts.

5) Our players must learn to protect the ball and not waste possession, in particular against better opposition. Learning to make better decisions like when to look for an offload or when to pass the ball out wide. Also, when not to grubber/chip the ball, when that would lead to a loss in possession. Simply put, they must learn to make the right choice at the right time. Easier said than done, unfortunately. It just boils down to one thing, experience.

6) Scrums were competent. Nothing much more to add.

7) Saints defeated SJI 27-0 in an earlier match at Republic Polytechnic. This meant that while both ACS(I) and Saints remain unbeaten and are currently only separated by virtue of points scored, with ACS(I) currently having a superior point difference.

8) The last remaining spot for the semi finals will be ultimately determined when SJI plays against RI on Matchday 7 of the competition. Based on currently form, and the availability of players from injuries and suspension, it will be tight game that could go either way.

9) While optimally, we always prefer to have a say as to who we will meet for the semis or the finals. However, that is just wishful thinking, and we can only play to whoever is in front of us on the pitch. The only thing we can do now is to win the rest of our matches, and come what may in the semis and hopefully the finals, we will let our opponents worry about us, rather than the other way round. We can only pray to God to continue to watch over us and keep our lads healthy and ready.

Incidentally, according to the Webster dictionary, A juggernaut is defined as – a massive inexorable force, campaign, movement, or object that crushes whatever is in its path. A fitting description, no?

More pictures from this set can be seen here at: http://www.flickr.com/photos/tanyongkuan/sets/72157629165469032/

Dead Heat

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Dead Heat by Dad Bear
Dead Heat, a photo by Dad Bear on Flickr.

27th February, Republic Polytechnic, Singapore

Matchday 6 of National Schools B Division Rugby Tournament, saw a top of the table clash between ACS(I) and Saint Andrew’s Secondary School. Both schools boasted an unblemished 4-0 record going into the game and were keen to maintain their clean slate.

Saints kicked off the first half, and were the faster team to settle into the rhythm of play. ACS(I) looked edgy and off colour, possibly with a few players returning from suspension and injury, and a few nursing knocks, swollen limbs and also gastroenteritis.
Saints employed their rush tactics very well, and did not give the ACS(I) players anytime on the ball. ACS(I) tried to counter this by chipping into the space behind the onrushing player. This led to a virtual stalemate as both teams exchanged possession, knock-ons and also penalties. ACS(I) received a penalty in the midfield area and found touch 10m out. Inexplicably, ACS(I) chose to take a quick line out, and ended up losing the ball, as their players were also caught by the surprise decision to take the quick throw. The Saints forward accepted the present in glee, sprinting into the clear, before chipping it smartly forward where the ball was collected by another Saints player, who scored next to the posts. A successful conversion meant that we had a 7-0 hole to climb out off. This was only the first try conceded by the ACS(I) team in the competition so far, but it was no doubt a bone-headed try to concede. There was no need to rush, least of all when nobody was communicating with each other. The try woke the ACS(I) lads up, and they were soon awarded a penalty 20m out and fairly central. This time, Joshua Chan meekly pulled the ball wide, Score still 0-7. From one of the few chances to break the line, ACS(I) finally strung a few passes together to release Joel Lim on the wing. Unfortunately he never received any support from the rest of the team, which saw him hesitate about 10 m from the try line. That momentary hesitation allowed the Saints defence to get their hands on him, and they won a penalty when Joel was adjudged to not release the ball fast enough. Opportunity gone. The referee then blew for half time not long after. HT Saints lead 7-0.

In the second half, ACS(I) increased their tempo of play and surged forward in search of an equalizing try. The opportunity came when Richard Keim, who was a pale shadow of his usual self today, took the ball from the base of the scrum, broke a couple of tackles before touching down in the end-zone. It was his most significant contribution for the day as the young man was suffering from non-stop diarrhea over the last 48 hours. With the conversion, the score stood at 7-7. Game on! From the resulting kick off, Saints then put ACS(I) under a truckload of pressure. A penalty for offside was awarded to Saints, near the touchline about 30m out. Saints elected to take the kick, but skewed it wide. Pressure temporarily off. However the ACS(I) ‘dropped ball menace’ hung around and they were not able to capitalise from good field positions, in particular after kicking to touch from penalties earned against the Saints. Play swung to and fro, with no side able to make the incisive thrust. Saints were then awarded a penalty midway through the second half halfway between the right post and the corner flag. The penalty went wide right, but was dropped by the ACS(I) standoff. In the resulting 5 m scrum, ACS(I) managed to win the ball back and clear their lines. Opportunity over for Saints. Again the tides of battle turned. Saints conceded a penalty late on on their 22m line. With less than 5 minutes on the clock, it was ACS(I) chance to clinch the match. Unfortunately, nerves set in, as Fullback GeLiang dragged the kick just wide of the right upright. Chance gone a-begging. ACS(I) pressed hard in the last minutes to clinch the win, but a knock-on from a scrum 10 meters from the line, on the left flank, puts paid to all hopes of a last-ditch victory. The referee blew for full time immediately after that. FT 7-7. Both teams retain their undefeated start, with ACS(I) still in first place because of a superior point difference.

Key points from the match:

1. Our boys look very flat today. They looked as if they had lead in their shoes and their hands were coated with grease. There was an element of self-doubt in the backs. When they were hitting their stride and gunning for the line, they should have just gone for the line without looking around for support or hoping to get an offload off. If there was anyone supporting (and yesterday there was none usually), the supporting player should communicate by shouting out, “I am behind you”, or something to the like. No doubt some of the players were rusty, having returned from injury and suspensions, while others were physically ill. However, the players need to make sure they themselves are disciplined enough to get enough rest. Diet and nutrition is also important, the players need to stay well hydrated and be very wary of what they eat. A bout of severe diarrhea or gastroenteritis just days before a critical match is not a nice thing to have to endure.

2. Learning to be calm and composed. Against a team like Saints who are fast to punish mistakes and have the pace to exploit gaps, the lads must learn to be cool and calculated. No doubt there are times to take a fast lineout, but at least do it where everyone on the team is on the same page, and there are NO opponents in the vicinity. Taking a quick lineout and getting intercepted, is just as good as committing rugby suicide. Absolutely needless and in effect, it is really like a 14 point swing. From being potentially 7 points up to being 7 points down. It was a lesson learnt, and thankfully not fatal. Just very painful.

3. Scrums and Lineouts. We held our own in the scrums but were clearly not dominating. Credit to Saints for having a well oiled forward pack. We had difficulty winning their scrums and won only 1 at the key moment when they were knocking on our door 5 metres out from our tryline. In their lineouts, Saints used the back pod very well, and apart from a few one-sided throws, we did not really contest their lineouts. On our own ledger, we did not lose any of our scrums but were not allowed much space to run after each scrum as Saints pressed forward incessantly. We lost two of our own lineouts (the first leading to the Saints try) but otherwise, lineouts were fairly well done.

4. Rucks and Mauls. We defended very well. If anything, our lads tackled brilliantly, and never really gave Saints any linebreaks. The ACS(I) lads defended in packs, and there was always someone to provide supporting cover in case someone slipped a tackle. Also to our credit, our forwards had a field day in the balls stolen column. We stole no less than 7-8 balls from open play, and this was a good springboard to break out of defence and for scoring potential points in the opponents half. Kudos to the coaching staff for the many rucking sessions which are now seemingly paying dividends.

5. Kicking. Again kicking to touch remained very well done. Our kickers have no problem finding touch. It is when you put a pair of posts in front of them do they suddenly develop an allergy to the points. We had 2 very makable kicks from just off-central positions. We fluffed our lines. Well, then again, so did Saints. They had a pair of kicks to win the game, but missed both by the odd country mile. I wouldn’t want to be in the shoes of the kickers. It’s easy to be a sideline commentator, and I know how much pressure they, the kickers, are under. However, we have said over and over again, one day this kicking thing will come back to bite us in the butt. Today, it bit, and thankfully, we still did not lose the game. 3 weeks to the match against Barker, enough time to get some real pressure kicking training under the belts.

6. Dropped Balls. Yesterday we saw millions of drops balls. Pass wide….dropped ball. Hit hard in the tackle, dropped ball. The lads must really look to protect the ball better.

7. Refereeing. Yesterday’s ref had a good game. Sure he might not have seen EVERYTHING, but when he did, he called the game in a even manner. He gave penalties against both teams when he needed to and was not afraid to give an advantage if there was still possession and ground gained. Let’s us pray for similar refereeing standards in the future.

8. Balance. We must continue to pray that the boys will be able to find a balance between their rugby, books, health and rest, and that God will always look out for them.

9. There is a saying, “Nothing has changed yet everything has changed.” We are still top of the table, but Saints now have the scent of blood in their noses. They savored the taste of victory in their lips, only to have us snatch it away from them. Like us, they will be analyzing their videos and playbooks to identify the areas that they can improve on. The next time we meet, we hope it will be in the final.

10. Communication. There must be better communication when the backs communicate with the forwards, between the backs themselves and also between the forwards themselves. Everyone must be on the same page. No point kicking the ball back to the opponents when you have a 4v3 man advantage. Likewise, If you are just kicking for the sake of kicking, why do it when almost all the rest of your teammates are offside or retreating from a ruck. Bascially, the lads should talk to each other more. Failure to do so will be tragic.

11. Brilliant atmosphere. The game was played in an excellent albeit tense atmosphere between both sets of players. There was mutual respect, but no fear. The handshakes at the end of the match were genuine with no malice intended at all during the course of the game. A good advertisement for the Schools rugby in Singapore!

12. Jock Tiernan, former ACS(I) Rugby coach, wrote in a post on the ACS(I) Rugby FB page on 27/2/2012 after the match, “It takes a good team to play badly and still win – compare the skills displayed with that of saints – eliminate the mistakes and which team is better suited to win”. We didn’t win today, but we surely did not lose. Game on!

More pictures from the match can be seen here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/tanyongkuan/sets/72157629108262244/with/6791282506/

Past Demons Banished

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Past Demons Banished by Dad Bear
Past Demons Banished, a photo by Dad Bear on Flickr.

On Matchday 5 of the B Division Rugby Tournament, ACS(I) took to the field against the auld enemy, Raffles Institution. The tie holds many sentimental and emotional attachments to students and parents alike, and in every sporting calendar featuring the two great schools, it has always been the single most anticipated fixture. Nothing matters more than to have one up over the bitter rivals. And in this year’s edition in the rugby B Division preliminary rounds, it was no different. The sides that faced each other on that cloudy overcast day in Woodlands, were made up largely of players who contested in the C Division final 2 years ago. On that day in 2010, RI, with the aid of many questionable refereeing calls, coupled with a superb rearguard defensive display, had emerged champions that fateful year, defeating ACS(I) 8-5, breaking a streak of 13 consecutive C Division crowns that ACS(I) had chalked up since 1996. Since then, many changes had occurred. new players were added to strengthen the squad on both sides. Then-head coach, Rhys Jones, left RI, to take up a position on the coaching staff at ACS(I), alongside Coach Adrian Chong. There were also many players on the RI side, who played their primary school rugby in ACS(Junior) under Coach Chong, and were classmates and buddies of many players in the current ACS(I) squad. Indeed, there was definitely no love lost between both sets of players.

ACS (I) was quick of the mark when they drew first blood early in the first half, when Richard Keim stormed over the try line. A series of probing runs down both flanks nearly resulted in ACS(I) extending their lead, but to no avail as RI defended resolutely. ACS(I) extended their lead when RI conceded a penalty for offside, which Joshua Chan kicked sweetly to extend the lead to 8-0. the game then became scrappy as both teams gave up possession easily through lost lineouts, forward passes and knock-ons. There were no further scoring as the half time whistle went.

In the second half, RI started strongly. They pinned the ACS(I) team to their own try line, and only through determined defence did the lads in Gold and Blue manage to repel the surging waves of green attackers. Against the run of play, ACS(I) won the ball in a counter-ruck and broke out of defence. In a surging run, Richard Keim broke 3 tackles, and spun the ball out wide, into the hands of Matthew Quek, who outsprinted the remaining RI defenders to score, converted again with much aplomb by Joshua Chan. ACS(I) leads 15-0. Richard Keim who was starting his first match this season, then kicked a sumptuous grubber into the end zone, for Winger Daniel Ho to tap down for the score. The conversion kick, from way out in the wings, sailed through the middle of the posts, ACS(I) leads 22-0. That score effectively killed off the match as a competitive contest. Both teams rang in the changes, and brought on substitutions. The game slowly fizzled out to a quiet end, but not before Joshua Chan made another penalty. FT 25-0.

Key pointers from the game:

1. Defence. Today we saw our defence tested seriously for the first time. RI were no mugs, they were winners in their own right, and they wanted to win. Our lads stood tall in defence, and were willing to put bodies behind the ball when it counted. Credit must be given to the coaching staff for the amount of attention given to rucking drills. Back in 2010, when we lost to RI in the C Div final, we were second best in the rucks. RI won a majority of the loose balls during the breakdown of play then, but not this time. Our lads were tigers in their tenacity in wanting the ball. We won numerous balls from counter rucks, and many of our points came as a result of this. When RI seriously threatened during the early phase of the second half, the lads never buckled under the pressure. They knew what they had to do. They knew that if they stood together, the sum of the parts was greater than the individual. Saints will play a very forward based game next week, and they will slow ball all the way if they can. They are also very quick to rush the defence, especially the kickers, having already scored at 2 tries from charge downs in the last 2 matches alone. We will have to exploit their weakness and remain steadfast against their onslaught.

2. Offence. Three very different but very good tries. Speed is of the essence and we must continue to show this, especially against Saints next week. Speed of thought and decision being the most critical, and showing the ability to make the right decision at the right time.

3. Kicking. One word. Stellar. While kicking from the hand had always been exemplary, kicking for points was a totally different matter. And what a far cry from the performance against the earlier teams! Credit must be given for Joshua Chan in being able to keep a calm head despite all the pressure. His ability to nail those kicks against RI that day, showed a much matured head on those young shoulders of his. Especially the conversion from the wing after try #3. The weight and direction of the kick was judged to perfection, given that there was a slight cross wind breeze blowing that day. Keep it up, Pom!

4. Lineouts and Scrums. We won all but one of our own lineouts, and there were no one-sided throws. We contested and even won more than 50% of RI lineouts. Impressive stats. Great job….again! In the scrums, we were NOT dominating. We were seen to be wheeled repeatedly, and while we won most of our scrums, even that became a problem in the latter part of the game, when fatigue probably set in. This must not happen against Saints next week. Saints scrumming has been top-notch from what we have seen in the earlier rounds, and also during pre-season games. They have big powerful forwards who will give our forwards a tough time if everyone does not pull their weight. Bernard Chan made his long awaited return from injury. While he showed a little rustiness and maybe a lack of sharpness, he displayed the same tenacity and courage we know he is capable of. A couple more matches under his belt and he will be right as rain. He has in YuQiang, a capable replacement in that position.

5. Intensity. Many of the players were drenched in sweat after the game. It was obvious that they were playing at a higher intensity than the earlier games. They showed the desire to win, and to win as a team. This was very heartening to the parents and supporters in the stands.

6. Penalties. Fortunately, in this match, ACS(I) conceded no major penalties in their own part of the pitch. Perhaps in their over-enthusiasm to win the ball back, they were often guilty of poor discipline. Namely, not rolling away, not releasing, coming from the side etc.  All these were very clear from my position behind the lens. They must learn to control their tempers and bide their time as silly penalties conceded will be very costly if lost in the wrong part of of the pitch, especially if in front of our own posts.

7. The Monkey. Yes, the 800lb gorilla that sits on the back of everyone of the 2010 C Div squad (and probably their parents as well) since August 2010, has well and truly been banished. The boys played with belief today and played as a team. They have indeed come a long way since those days of tears and disappointment.

Apart from the rearranged Matchday 4 match vs Greenridge Sec School on March 6th, we have a few big matches still to go. Every one a cup final in its own right. Beginning with the cracker against Saints next Monday 27/2/2012, 3pm, at Republic Polytechnic. That match promises to define the season. Meantime, we can only just pray for our boys to stay healthy. That they will get enough rest, while balancing their schoolwork, amidst all the tornado of thoughts going through their minds. We also pray for the speedy return of key players like Daniel, Ben and Geliang. That they too will be able to get match fit as soon as possible.

For more pictures from the match, go to http://www.flickr.com/photos/tanyongkuan/sets/72157629429799487/

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