By Phang Yeu Yeou (19A01A) and Aaron Tan (19A01B)
Photographs by Raffles Photographic Society
Shoulder to shoulder, arms linked around each man to their left and right, the teams from both schools face the sea of supporters as a united front. It’s a sight to behold: the ruggers’ faces are steeled into a challenge for their opponents, though the jitters of their bandaged knees betray their nervous anticipation. As the drums throb through the stands, as the players head to the field and huddle together for one last briefing, perhaps only one thing is certain – no one knows how the Kiwi Cup will end.
The Kiwi Cup is an annual tradition for the rugby teams of Raffles Institution and Saint Andrews’ School. Each year, in late January, the rival teams butt heads (quite literally) for the prize. After a historic win in 2017, Raffles Institution was denied the chance to repeat the feat in 2018, when the Kiwi Cup was cancelled due to inclement weather. This year, all eyes are once more on Team Raffles. Will they be able to hold on to the champion’s cup — or was 2017 a mere blip, an outlier, in the history of the storied contest?
The pressure was on for the Year 6 ruggers. “Before the game started, we were all feeling really excited and perhaps even nervous to a certain extent,” explained Kai En (19S03C). “Since majority of the team comprised of Year 6s, it was going to be our last kiwi cup for the school and the pressure was on us to retain the cup for another year.
“But everyone was very reassuring and supportive to one another so I guess that helped to ease our nerves to get us to stay calm and focus on the game ahead.”
The impossibly high arc of the first ball toss is met by the surge of ruggers being hoisted up by their team-mates in lightning quick succession. The match is on. Aside from the initial burst of euphoria, the first half, frustratingly, provides few answers. To great fanfare and cheers of “Raffles Dynamite” (and various other Greatest Hits), the two sides tussle for forty minutes, with no tries scored on either side.
The crowd roars as the players approach the end zone, and groans as well-positioned defenders collide with the valiant offense, piling up in a dust-cloud of tangled limbs before the ball slips into opposing hands. A few more close calls from both sides, including a missed penalty the deadlock refuses to budge, and before we know it, the whistle blows for half-time. As the audience disperses for a break, the ruggers leave the field tired, but remain confident that victory is within their grasp. “We knew that this game wasn’t going to be easy,” said captain Gideon Kee (19S03P) in recollection, “and that we had to grind it out to get the win.”
“We knew how much harder we had to fight in order to win,” added Sek Ray (19S06G).
0-0. Never in recent memory has the Kiwi Cup ended in a draw – and it isn’t about to happen anytime soon. As the tension mounts, so too do holes start to form — something has to give. And give it does. It is not long before the Saints come marching through the Rafflesian defense, finally scoring a try. Rapturous cheers erupt to the left, drowned by the silence of disappointment of the Rafflesian crowd.
It does not last long. “It’s okay, restart!” yells an ardent prefect. His words ripple through the crowd, as does the fighting spirit reignite within the heart of the ruggers on the field who stand shaken but strong. Once more, to the throb of the war drums and the heart of the crowd that cheers louder and harder than ever. They resume positions. Ten minutes remain. It is not over yet.
“It’s now or never!” a student leader thunders across the impossibly large distance from his vantage point in the stadium, urging the supporters to give the ruggers that one final push before the game ends. Perhaps they can hear the renewed strength in the crowd’s ardent cheers, for the ruggers surge forward with unprecedented force. Once more the Saints’ defence closes in for a tackle… And the audience gasps as a kick from the Saints down the field is blocked by one of raffles players, and ball comes out loose. As it rolls on the ground, Captain Gideon Kee gets a grip on the ball and fights his way for a try, which he succeeds. The crowd goes wild.
Team Raffles is on a roll now. Carried forth with a renewed strength, they continue the relentless assault. Two penalty goals and another successful try by winger Spencer Wee, and the final whistle blows. They, and the cheering crowd, can barely believe it. The final scoreline is 14-5 in RI’s favour.
A deluge of white engulfs the New Stadium as the Rafflesian supporters swarm the field in celebration, before breaking out into a rousing performance of the “Unite” cheer. As they disperse, the players pose for photos with friends and loved ones, their smiles aglow in the cloudlit light.
We asked Captain Gideon Kee for his thoughts on the match. “Mad respect to our opponents,” he replied. “They played a very physical game which caused us some problems. They showed sportsmanship through the way they played. Overall it was a fantastic experience for both sides.”
“Definitely felt extremely happy to have won such a strong Saints team,” he continued. “Honestly I was too exhausted to properly celebrate but it was as though a huge load had been lifted off my chest when the final whistle was blown.”
Even in the midst of the celebration, the team doesn’t forget the people who helped them get to where they are right now.
“The team’s believe definitely played a huge role in the victory,” said Gideon. “Every player gave their best and trusted one another as well. Being a Christian, I give credit to the Lord as well for blessing us with the victory. Beside these, the coaches and seniors who came down to help us during trainings made a huge difference. They dedicated their time and effort to coaching us and we got the result we all aimed for.”
Sek Ray attributed their success to the team’s hard work and the coaches’ patience. “We are not the most talented bunch of people,” he said. “But everyone persevered on the tough training. Trust, passion and the fact that we didn’t want to let each other down, drove us to winning the match.”
“On behalf of the team we would like to thank the supporters — students, teachers, parents and alumni — from both Raffles and [the] Saints. They created an electrifying atmosphere that the players would never forget.”