RUGBY in the country received a shot-in-the-arm with the launch of the Columbia Asia-Combined Old Boys Rugby Association (Cobra) Schools Rugby Development Programme at the Cobra club headquarters in Petaling Jaya yesterday.
The programme will see Columbia Asia, a private healthcare provider of which the Employees Provident Fund owns a 30 percent stake, supply financial and medical support to Cobra in organising coaching clinics nationwide and a tournament for school children aged 13 to 16.
More than 800 students are expected to take part in the programme which is set to kick off on June 16.
Cobra vice-president Boon Hoon Chee said the programme, which targets day-schools located close to Columbia Asia's 10 hospitals situated throughout the nation, will help give much needed exposure and competition platform for non-boarding school students.
"The current state of the sport at schools level is at a healthy level, however, programmes such as this will ensure a larger pool of players will be continuously produced for further development," said Hoon Chee, who is also the national 15-a-side coach.
"Rugby has been traditionally played at boarding schools, which has been the main producer of young talent in the sport.
"Day-schools students, however, have often been left out and not given an equal chance to take part in the sport which is something we hope to overcome with this programme.
"There is a huge untapped potential for talent from such schools and to go in at the Under-16 level is the best way to go at it."
With rugby's status as a non-core sport in the country, Hoon Chee went on to praise Columbia Asia's efforts in supporting the development of the game.
"As a non-core sport, we do receive considerably less funding from the NSC compared to sports such as football or hockey.
"Support from the private sector is crucial if the sport is to move forward and we greatly appreciate and urge the private sector to continue to support us."
The coaching clinics, headed by Cobra's English, Fijian and local International Rugby Board certified coaches, will be held in four districts in the Klang Valley this month before heading to Perak, Negri Sembilan and Johor in July.
The Columbia Asia-Cobra 15s tournament for schools that take part in the clinics will be held on June 30-Jul 14. By Fadhli Ishak