Seven A Side

01 June 2016

We find out more about the Borneo Sevens Tournament, which has been raising Malaysia’s name in the international rugby scene for 15 years now. 
While Malaysian rugby is not unknown in the global arena, it may surprise some that Malaysia is host to an impressive annual international rugby tournament. This year marked the 15th anniversary of the Borneo Sevens Tournament, an international rugby competition which takes place in Sandakan once a year and draws in teams from all around the world. The Tournament was founded in 2001 as part of the Sandakan Festival Celebrations and is now organised by the Eagles Rugby Club, one of Malaysia’s very own international rugby clubs which competes at both national and international levels.

The Tournament is fondly known by many as the Greenest Sevens on Earth, predominantly because of Sandakan’s title of Nature City of Sabah and the Tournament’s proximity to some of Malaysia’s lushest Bornean rainforest. The region is also renowned for its eco-tourism, and the Eagles Rugby Club is keen to promote more sports-based tourism in Sabah through the Borneo Sevens Tournament each year. International teams harking from as far and wide as Fiji, Dubai, Samoa, Kenya, New Zealand, South Africa, Belgium, Taiwan, Australia and the UK have played the Tournament in the last few years, earning it international recognition from the Asia Rugby group. Although this year’s Tournament featured solely men’s groups from a variety of countries, previous years’ Tournaments have also included the Asia Pacific Regional events for men and women, in which National Teams from the Asia Pacific region have participated.

Rugby sevens differ quite markedly from regular rugby, which normally includes 15 players a side. Originating in Scotland, rugby sevens have only seven players each side (the clue is in the name!), and this anomaly requires the players to be more agile and leaner than regular rugby players. Sevens matches normally only last for around 15 to 20 minutes, with only a few minutes break for halftime. Scoring also occurs more frequently in sevens, as the defenders are more spread out across the pitch and the shorter match length means sevens tournaments can be completed in less time - even just a day or a weekend. Sevens Tournaments are commonly known for being more fun and relaxed than regular rugby, and some say the tournaments often feel more like a festival than a serious sporting event!

International tournaments in Malaysia such as the Borneo Sevens has lead to younger generations becoming more interested in the sport. Jonathan Tan, Committee Member of Eagles Rugby Club, claims that “the popularity of the game is gaining ground at a good pace especially among school children. In the state of Sabah alone, 65 secondary and 53 primary schools are involved in a development program undertaken jointly by Sabah Rugby Union, Eagles Rugby Club, the Sabah Education Department and anchor sponsor IJM Plantations Berhad.” He also informed us of a variety of local initiatives which have been set up across Malaysia to encourage more young people to play the sport. Speaking of one such initiative, Mr Tan says that the Eagles Rugby Club sends around 20 schoolchildren in Sabah each year for 3-week stints at rugby training institutions in New Zealand. He adds that the children are selected by a panel of coaches currently headed by the Club’s state rugby development director Bradley Moni Mika, a former New Zealand All Blacks player.

On top of spearheading excellent training programmes, Eagles Rugby Club also boasts some of Malaysia’s best rugby players and regularly win competitions both at home and abroad. They took home the Cup at this year’s Borneo Sevens Tournament, making it their second win for two years running. They are hoping to continue their winning streak at next year’s Tournament, which will be reintroducing the women’s events and hopefully garnering participation from multiple international teams.


By Chris Lim & Charlie Morgan

Photos courtesy of Eagles Rugby Club

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