By Les Tan/Red Sports
Mark Cheong in action for the Singapore Cricket Club. (Photo 1 courtesy of Jonathan Leow)
Mark Cheong, 18, is the vice-captain of the Singapore under-20 national rugby team that recently won promotion to Division 2 of the Asian Rugby Football Union (ARFU). Mark and his teammates beat Kazakhstan 17-10 in the final to secure that promotion. Mark, a recent graduate of United World College, scored the opening try against Kazakhstan.
Mark comes from a family of ruggers, with older brother Matt Cheong having also donned national colours while playing both 7s and 15s. He was born in Taiwan because his father was posted overseas for work and returned to Singapore at the age of seven to start his education.
Red Sports: How long have you been playing rugby?
Mark Cheong: I’ve been playing rugby since I was 8 years old, so I would have been playing for 10 years this year.
Red Sports: Who got you started in rugby?
Mark Cheong: When I first moved to Singapore at the age of 7, my parents enrolled me in the Centaurs rugby club as a way to meet new people and make friends. It was through this that my interest in rugby developed. My Dad played rugby for Raffles Institution in school and Brother Matt plays the game, so there was common interest.
Red Sports: When did you come to the attention of the national selectors?
Mark Cheong: My school (UWC) rugby coach received an email asking to bring the best 5 players from the school team to go for a trial for the under-16 national team. It was through this that I was selected for the under-16 national team.
Red Sports: Is this your first time representing Singapore?
Mark Cheong: I have represented Singapore on numerous occasions against visiting schools and other rugby clubs from around the world. However, the Asian Rugby Football Union (ARFU) Division 3 Under-20 Tournament was the first opportunity where I pitted myself against other national teams.
Red Sports: How does it feel to play for Singapore?
Mark Cheong: There is an overwhelming sense of honour and pride when wearing the Singapore jersey. Wearing the red and white jersey inspires me to play at my best not only because I am representing my home country but also because I know I am playing side by side with Singaporeans. Overall it is a very emotional and powerful experience.
Red Sports: What worked for the team in Uzbekistan? What didn’t?
Mark Cheong: Over the 3 months of training for this tournament our excellent coaching staff created a game plan, which we worked on prior to the tour.
In Uzbekistan, our main role was to execute the practice game plan. This took a lot of weight off the players’ shoulders as it allowed us to work on our own personal game.
Our main struggle during the tour was self-inflicted pressure as well as many of our players not being used to the tournament atmosphere.
Red Sports: What’s the next tournament on the radar for the team?
Mark cheong: Our next tournament for the under-20 national team is the Division 2 Asian rugby 5 nations tournament next summer.
Red Sports: Did you play other sports?
Mark Cheong: I played football and basketball until I was 16 when I decided to seriously pursue rugby.
Red Sports: If you weren’t playing rugby, what sport could you imagine yourself playing for the country?
Mark Cheong: In my younger years I was a relatively good goal keeper. SO if rugby had not been a passion of mine, goal keeping would have been another route for me.
Mark Cheong and his Singapore U-20 teammates. (Photo 2 courtesy of Jonathan Leow)
Mark Cheong (right) relaxing with teammate Vighnesh Krishnan. (Photo 3 courtesy of Jonathan Leow)