BORNEO 7s THE GREENEST SEVENS IN THE WORLD
A BRIEF OVERVIEW
BORNEO 7s - THE GREENEST SEVENS IN THE WORLD
The tournament was inaugurated in 2001 when the then IJM Plantations Sdn. Bhd., later IJM Plantations Berhad. after its listing on the Main Board of the Kuala Lumpur Stock Exchange, decided to join forces with Sabah Rugby Union (SRU) to reinvigorate the game of rugby in Sabah, Malaysia.
During its early years, the Sandakan Town Council made the tournament one of the featured events of the ‘Sandakan Festival’, a month-long series of events that was organized to promote Sandakan as a tourist destination. Participation in the tournament then was comparatively limited with only local teams involved. Nevertheless it was a very important first step towards expanding the horizons of rugby in Sabah. From that rather unassuming start, the tournament quickly found its footing through the dedicated efforts of all involved.
Today we are proud to say that our Borneo 7s has earned wide recognition – so much so that it is sanctioned by ASIA RUGBY, the governing body of the game in Asia. Meanwhile Asia Rugby has also recognised Eagles Rugby Club as one of its technical hubs for High Performance Training.
Through the ensuing years IJM Plantations Berhad (now taken over by KLK Sawit Nusantara Bhd), together with Sandakan Rugby Club (now re-registered as Eagles Rugby Club Sandakan) as well as Sabah Rugby Union, worked relentlessly towards making the event the showcase of a game that at that time received only limited publicity. The local, national and even international news media soon picked up on what they were tirelessly aiming to do i.e. to organize an international event of very high standard which will attract locals to turn their focus on the of game of rugby. Coverage by various television and radio stations quickly followed. Live-streaming of the event at one time received over 300,000 hits. Reports of the tournament in the print media also grew with some foreign press picking up the news as well.
Today the tournament has become one of the major sports events in the state and the country – in fact in this region as well. It evokes a sense of pride and achievement for the state because even renowned foreign teams are coming to Sabah to take part in it. Its internationalization has resulted in an appropriate name change. What was originally called the East Malaysia COBRA 10s became the Borneo COBRA International Rugby 10s. Commensurate with the stature of the tournament cash prizes offered were among the highest in the country for a rugby tournament.
SEVENS FORMAT FOR THE MEN
At a team managers’ meeting in 2008 a major change was made when it was decided to forgo the Tens format and use the Sevens format instead. That was successfully implemented in 2009 and the tournament has since been renamed the BORNEO SEVENS. In view of the fact that it is played in Borneo, a land of lush tropical forests, the event has now been tagged as “The Greenest Sevens In The World”
The tournament took a major leap forward when it was internationalized in the 2005. The Chinese Taipei team, a World Cup 7s finalist then, and a Fijian Selection from Fiji made their first appearance in Sabah at the tournament displaying their well-known flair and skills and lifting the standard of the tournament to a new and higher level.
Others in the fray were Brunei Rugby Union and all the top Malaysian rugby outfits including COBRA, Negeri Sembilan Wanderers, RMAF Blackhawks, Projek Gemilang, RMAF Labuan and Labuan Rugby Club. Several of these teams were powered by Fiji ‘imports’. This naturally resulted in a rise in the standard of the tournament as well as its popularity. It also exposed Sabah’s home-grown players to a far higher standard of the game and coaxed the best out of them.
The 2006 edition provided even greater thrills and spills. Two internationally-renowned teams, Davetalevu from Fiji and Ponsonby from New Zealand, made their first appearance in Sabah. They immediately stamped their mark at the tournament with Davetalevu emerging the Cup Champions.
To the delight of local fans, foreign participation was further augmented in 2007 when Davetalevu returned to defend their title. They were joined by Penguins International (UK), Taipei Baboons, Marist St. Joseph (Samoa), Arabian Potbellies (UAE), Aotearoa Maori (NZ) and the Singapore Barbarians.
In addition to the other international teams, the 2008 edition saw the appearance for the first time of teams from Kenya, South Africa, Australia and Belgium. The Penguins from the United Kingdom eventually emerged very worthy champions.
In 2009, local Malaysian team, N.S. Wanderers, sprang a major surprise when they derailed the hopes of hot favourites Davetalevu in an exciting final to clinch the Cup for the second time since 2005. SRC Borneo Eagles won the Plate while Sibu Rugby Club made a successful debut at the event by capturing the Bowl.
The 2013 edition again saw teams from Fiji and Australia amongst others sending their teams to participate. Fiji’s Daveta (Davetalevu) managed to successfully defend the title that they had won in 2010 and 2012.
To date, renowned international teams that have participated over the years include Daveta (Fiji), Marist St. Joseph (Samoa), Aotearoa Maori Club (New Zealand), Penguins International (UK), Barbarians (Singapore), Arabian Pot-bellies (Dubai-UAE), Harlequins (Kenya), Australian Legends, Country King Browns (Australia), Mustangs (South Africa), Belgium Barbarians, Taipei Baboons (Chinese Taipei), Casuarina Rugby Club (Aus), Brunei Rugby Union, Palmyra RC (Aus), Nedlands RC (Aus), Massey Rugby Club (Aus), the Outlaws RC (Aus), Tribe 7s (Aus), Southern Lions RC (Aus), Alabang Eagles (Philippines), Charis Rugby Club (Aus) and Sunny Bank RC (Aus), Hong Kong, Iconz (Aus), Tainan Chang Jung (Chinese Taipei), Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea, Sri Lanka, and Singapore.
The cream of Malaysian teams that have participated are COBRA (Kuala Lumpur), DBKL Sports Club, Combined Malaysian Armed Forces, Negeri Sembilan Wanderers, Malaysia Universities, Sibu Rugby Club, Iskandar Raiders, Sabah Eagles, OSCA-Warriors, KK Sharks, Panthers/Blowpipes (KL) and host team ERC Borneo Eagles.
The ERC Borneo Eagles is the club’s touring team combining the best local players reinforced by foreign guest players from New Zealand, Australia, Fiji and Samoa. They have won the Cup at this tournament in 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2019. However, they have also won in 2004 (as SRU Borneo Eagles) and 2007 (as SRC Borneo Eagles).
For the first time ever, in 2019 the tournament saw the participation of a men’s team coming all the way from Russia. Two Japanese Clubs also sent in their women’s teams to the tournament with one of them emerging champions.
With the influx of so many top-rated international teams, the pace and standard of the tournament has reached a new level of excitement and local fans have come to expect nothing less. Now, with increased participation of foreign teams each year, the exhilaration is bound to multiply manifold. We can again expect very fiery competition on the pitch.
The inaugural Women Sevens event in 2008 saw the Thai Barbarians overcoming Atlantis (USA) to clinch the title. Despite the limited number of participating teams the thrills on the pitch more than made up for this shortcoming.
Unfortunately in 2009, the women’s category had to be cancelled as most of the women players had to don national jerseys to represent their respective countries in the Asian Rugby Sevens Series which was then held together with the International Club event.
However, the women’s event was reintroduced in 2017 with Sri Lanka emerging as the Cup champions. South Korea won the Plate and Singapore took the Bowl. 2018 saw the Hong Kong Dragons emerge as the women’s champions while the Japanese girls from Nagato Blues Angels Club won in 2019.
RUGBY COACHING CLINICS – by international teams
We, the Organisers, are very appreciative of the fact that, over the years, teams from Fiji, the United Kingdom, Belgium, Australia, Japan, South Africa and Thailand had taken their time to visit our schools to impart their knowledge of the game to local youngsters. For the schoolchildren these rugby clinics were great fun and lifted their spirits. They generated much interest in the game where it mattered most – among the youngsters.
The Coaching clinics have now become a tradition and may again be organized this year if time permits.
Unfortunately, due to the international Covid-19 crisis, the tournament could not be held from 2020 to 2022.
We are now back again and we can expect to relive all the thrills and spills again.
By putting the game of rugby in the limelight through extensive news coverage in both the printed and electronic media, the Borneo Sevens generated great interest in the game. News clippings of the action were shown on Malaysia TV channels while ‘live-streaming’ of the event via social media sent the coverage of the matches around the globe.
The traditional printed news media, both national and local, also disseminated news about the tournament around the country.
This rugby extravaganza has certainly contributed to a revitalization of the game in the country. We should see a positive impact on school children which we are confident will translate into more kids picking up rugby as their game of choice.
As for Malaysia’s national and Sabah’s state players, both men and women, they have definitely gained much valuable experience playing against top class exponents of the game, many of whom are professionals. The opportunity has coaxed the best out of them and surely strengthened their self confidence. Their respective coaches will have benchmarked their players against an international field and be able to rectify their shortcomings.
As always, in conjunction with the Borneo Sevens, we conducted courses for local referees and coaches a few days before the tournament. Experienced international coaches and referees were present to conduct the courses. Among them were top players from well established teams, including former All-Blacks players.
We take great pride of the fact that our tournament’s medical team consistently did their job with efficiency and professionalism. We had highly qualified specialists in the team. Prior to the tournament we also conducted a course specifically on rugby-related injuries. Their dedication to their job has won much praise from team officials and players year after year.
We are encouraged by the public’s response towards the Borneo Sevens year after year. It was always well attended, with the grand stand seats completely filled up with spectators - even though we added a new section to it recently.
Eagles Rugby Club is very thankful to the Government as well as all statutory bodies for the assistance and cooperation extended to us to make the tournament a success. We also extend our thanks to all the sponsors and donors for their generous support.
After a 3-year hiatus due to the Covid-19 pandemic, we are hopeful and confident that the 2023 edition of the Borneo Sevens will reignite interest in the game as well as the tournament itself.
We are now back again and we are determined to relive all the thrills and spills again.