Rugby sevens legend Ben Gollings talks about the game’s growth in Singapore and the upcoming HSBC Singapore Rugby Sevens
SINGAPORE (Apr 2): Standing next to rugby sevens legend Ben Gollings, the first thing you notice is how much bigger you had imagined him to be. At 1.75m, the former England skipper is best described as “diminutive” compared with his hulking rivals on the pitch.
Indeed, in a career that stretched over more than a decade, Gollings went toe to toe with some of the biggest — and most feared — names in the sport, including the All Blacks’ legendary juggernaut Jonah Lomu, Fijian phenom Waisale Serevi and Samoan superstar Uale Mai.
Yet, Gollings stood tall.
Blessed with a blistering pace — and an even quicker mind — the fly-half racked up a jaw-dropping 2,652 points throughout his career in the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series. Nearly seven years after his retirement, he still holds the all-time record for most points scored.
“I love to play in the game, which I think helps,” Gollings tells Options. “I never wanted to come off the field, so I didn’t even bother looking towards the bench. I always wanted to play every minute of every game.”
While Gollings’ pace allowed him to beat opponents one-on-one, he attributes his try-scoring success — he crossed an amazing 220 times — to a good understanding of the game and being smart in the way he supported his teammates. “I was able to put myself in the right place at the right time. Often, my work was without the ball, but it was getting a pass to score from maybe two or three metres,” he says.
He also spent countless hours working on his kicking abilities from a very young age. And it is this determination that sees him also holding the record for the most number of conversions in the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series. Gollings sent an astounding 773 conversions sailing over between the posts in his sevens career, accounting for more than half of his total points scored.
Sevens for Singapore
“The great thing about sevens is size doesn’t matter,” Gollings says. Therefore, he sees “great potential” for the game to develop in Singapore, where he has been appointed ambassador for the 2018 HSBC Singapore Rugby Sevens alongside long-serving New Zealand Sevens captain DJ Forbes.
“Ben and DJ are both giants in the sevens game and played massively influential roles in making the game what it is today,” says David Lim, chairman of Rugby Singapore, the commercial arm of the Singapore Rugby Union. “Ben’s past association with the SRU makes him a natural ambassador for Singapore,” he adds.
Indeed, Gollings is no stranger to rugby in Singapore. Last year, the 37-year-old took on an advisory role in both the Singapore Men’s and Women’s Rugby Sevens ahead of the 2017 SEA Games in Kuala Lumpur. Aided by his tactical feedback, both squads finished an admirable second in the competition.
“[Rugby in Singapore] is at a real growth phase,” Gollings says. With a multitude of seven-a-side competitions available, ranging from the HSBC Sevens World Series to the Commonwealth Games and the Olympic Games, he believes there is no shortage of opportunity for the sport to develop here.
“If it can embrace what there is, it can really start to grow,” he says. “Currently, rugby is looking to almost take over [football] as the No 1 sport in England. But it’s not about being No 1 or No 2; it’s just about your sport developing.”
His stint with the Singapore Sevens squads has also convinced him that the Lion City has the right talent to achieve great things. “They’ve got the athletes here as well. I was really impressed with the skill. They just needed a bit more time in the game to understand the intricacies of the game and the tactical side, as well as the physical and mental [aspects],” he says.
And while Gollings was impressed with the squad, one player in particular stood out: Singapore Rugby Sevens captain Marah Moehammad Ishraf.
“Marah is really starting to learn. He is a senior player and he has a lot on his shoulders, but he is only a young lad. He’s got some great skills and good footwork; he just needs time to really develop them and know how to really use them,” Gollings says.
A 23-year-old half-back, Marah led Singapore to the Men’s Rugby Sevens silver medal at the SEA Games last year.
The way Gollings sees it, events such as the HSBC Singapore Rugby Sevens go a long way in helping to promote and develop the game. In addition, he says it is “amazing” for the event to get the support of the government and the corporate world. “It’s great when the corporate world gives back to the community because, ultimately, that’s where it all starts,” Gollings says. “The same with the government... It’s all part of the puzzle, and it’s great when they’re involved.”
Besides inspiring younger players to pick up the sport, he sees the event as an opportunity for the transfer of knowledge from world-class teams and to get more people interested in the game. “Players really enjoy coming here. I think it creates a great vibe,” he says. “And then to go and play in the [National] Stadium. It’s an unbelievable stadium. It can be enclosed, you can cool it down — players love that. It’s pretty special.”
“Singapore is this amazing city that people can come and visit, and if they’ve never been here, it has a pretty ‘wow’ factor,” he adds.
For Gollings, the key to a successful HSBC Singapore Rugby Sevens event is building a family-friendly carnival. “It’s to embrace the whole family; to get the whole family down and involved in watching the games,” he says. “The party is for everybody — young and old. I think that’s quite exciting.”
The 2018 HSBC Singapore Rugby Sevens will be held on April 28 and 29 at the National Stadium. Tickets are available at www.singapore7s.sg
This article appeared in Issue 824 (Apr 2) of The Edge Singapore.
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