I joined the rugby squad in school when I was ten years old. It was rough at the start but I liked the contact because I was a chubby kid," jests 21 year old rugby 7s player Max Ducourneau. A relative newcomer to the sports scene in Singapore, he is one of the hottest players to watch as the nation gears up for the 28th annual Southeast Asian Games.
The French-Singaporean sportsman was just eight years old when his father introduced him to touch rugby, but it was playing full-contact rugby that ignited his passion for the sport. This passion spurred Ducourneau to pursue rugby on a near-professional level when he went to boarding school in Bordeaux, France. "The level [over there] was so intense compared to Singapore," he says. "But I got to play against peers from the French National under-21s team, so it was great growing up over there and widening my knowledge of rugby." His international debut for Singapore took place at the 2014 Asian Rugby Football Union Men's 7s Series in Hong Kong and his sports career has been on an upward trajectory ever since.
Still, the game is not won by one man alone, and Ducourneau is grateful for the opportunity to represent Singapore with his band of brothers. "We've worked really hard and we're on the road to gold, so we won't want anything to stop us," he says.
What's the first thing on your mind when you enter the field?
Don't screw up. [laughs] Each time I enter the pitch, I try to make the most out of the game and enjoy it. That's the most important thing when you're on the pitch.
Do you have any pre-game rituals?
I like to have a bit of time by myself when I'm warming up or stretching. This allows me to focus on the first few things I want to do when I'm in the game. Once I go on the field, I focus on the first three tackles, because that will set the pace of the game, the defence, and how aggressive I can be in attack.
It's going to be a huge opportunity to perform on an international stage, especially because we're hosting the games
What's the best advice you ever received?
My dad has always told me: Be original. Be yourself on the pitch but don't worry too much about the pressure because that is what will make you play well. Also, size doesn't matter, skills do.
Given the high expectations of the Singapore rugby team at the SEA Games, do you feel the pressure to perform?
Playing centre, I'm definitely feeling a bit of pressure. But the moment we get on the pitch, we're just like little boys running after the ball. Obviously I want to do well, but I also want to be a good ambassador for the sport. To all the young boys and girls who are eager to join rubgy, but have misgivings about its rough nature, I hope they will see how much fun it is.
Catch Max live on 6 and 7 June, at the Choa Chu Kang Stadium as he goes for gold in the Men’s Rugby 7s for the 28th SEA Games
Photography: Vanessa Caitlin
Fashion direction: Norman Tan
Styling assistance: Pakkee Tan
Hair and makeup: Marie Genevieve Jessie Soh