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Player turned coach, Kyler Wong inspires ACS (I) to eighth successive A Division boys’ rugby title

SINGAPORE - In 2014, Kyler Wong was part of the Anglo-Chinese School (Independent) A Division boys’ rugby team that reclaimed the National School Games title from St Andrew’s Junior College (SAJC).

Wong is now the coach of ACS (I) and, on Monday, he led his charges to an eighth straight title with a come-from-behind 13-9 win over Raffles Institution (RI) at the Ministry of Education (Evans) Stadium.

After thrashing SAJC 62-0 by the mercy rule in the semi-finals last week, ACS (I) summoned the fighting spirit from Wong’s 2014 team in the final to overturn a 9-6 deficit with less than 10 minutes remaining.

The teams were tied at 6-6 at the interval after trading penalty kicks with little opportunities to score tries, before Caleb Loh converted his third penalty kick in the second half to give RI the advantage.

With the chips stacked against them, ACS (I) responded by upping their intensity and eventually won a scrum close to the try line.

Their relentless pressure paid off when Year Six student Jeremiah Williams charged through a wave of bodies to score the decisive try.

Wong, 26, said of the late charge: “I was nervous, but I had the confidence in the team... we had a few of these scenarios in trainings where we played from three or four points down and they came back to win as well.”

He also praised the courage of his players, adding: “It’s a collective effort. This team doesn’t have a lot of individual star players, but they do have a lot of great characters. And I think that’s what brought us through.”

On extending the winning sequence, he said: “We never actually looked at the streak for quite long. It’s more of getting the processes right over the past few weeks.”

Jeremiah, 18, who made the switch from football to rugby in Primary 4, said: “It was definitely a surreal feeling because the moment the ball is in your hands, you don’t realise how far you can get.

“And I guess it’s just a matter of you just pushing on, no matter what.

“The moment before we went into the scrum, everyone was just saying we believe in you, we are behind you. And from there we just kept pushing. So I guess that’s very important to me, that teamwork behind it all. And that’s what really drove me to the try.”

Any hope of an RI comeback was extinguished when Muhammad Haziq was sent off with three minutes to play.

It was RI’s sixth straight final loss to ACS(I) since 2016 when they lost 36-3. Since then, the gap has grown narrower, from five points (29-24) in 2022 to four points this season.

RI coach Mark Lee, 45, conceded that the late pressure from ACS(I) made the difference, saying: “The team that makes the least mistakes and keeps their composure wins.

“It was a fantastic final between two gladiators and it was so close right until the death.

“These boys finished last when they were in Secondary One. ACS (I) have something we don’t, which we want. So we just have to keep working hard towards it.”