By Christopher Ong
THEY went down to a try after seven minutes last week. But Anglo-Chinese School (Independent) were far from beaten. They had the pedigree and the strength of will to recover and win this year's Schools National C Division rugby title, beating ACS (Barker Road) 22-15.
It was their 13th C Division title in a row, going back as far as 1997.
Said ACS (I) coach Adrian Chong: 'Each year, it gets harder to retain the title. When we won our first six or seven titles, we were quite far ahead of the pack.
'But the rest have been catching up.'
ACS (I)'s success started when former coach-cum-rugby master Irwin Seet started a rugby programme after joining the school in 1992.
He said: 'That was when we began to 'professionalise' the sport.'
It included introducing a rugby sports psychology programme in 1997 and hiring full-time coach Chong in 1999. Chong is now the team's head coach.
Dr Seet, now the Singapore Sports School's director of sports, said the sports psychology programme played an important role in ACS (I)'s success.
He said: 'With that, the boys learnt how to win at crucial stages. The school never lost after that because they are so strong mentally.'
He was not surprised at ACS (I)'s longevity at the top, saying: 'When we started the programme, one of the considerations was longevity. It was a deliberate plan.'
Dr Seet left the school in 2003, but there was continuity as Chong remained.
Chong places a heavy emphasis on nutrition and other players have observed that the ACS (I) team stand out with their bigger build owing to regular weight training and protein supplements.
Said Chong: 'The boys train very hard, so they will lose a lot of muscle mass if they don't replenish themselves. Mass is very important in rugby.'
St Andrew's Secondary rugby coach Gene Tong felt that that ACS (I) enjoys success because it attracts the best talent.
'Our junior school is an excellent feeder stream for us but a lot of these rugby players get poached,' he said.
Raffles Institution coach Rhys Jones said ACS (I) also benefited from the rugby players coming through ACS (Primary) and ACS (Junior).
'Some of these boys have been playing together for many years even before secondary school, while our boys have to play catch-up,' he said. 'I can foresee them winning the C Division for a long time.'
But he believes the Raffles Rugby Academy can help bridge the gap.
To be opened in October, it will offer coaching to top primary schools which do not have rugby in the hope that these boys will join RI after their Primary School Leaving Examination.
In the meantime, Jones was full of praise for his rivals, saying: 'I have a lot of respect for them and the fact that they have won for 13 years running.'
This article was first published in The Straits Times.