Fans, players praise atmosphere as Singapore Sevens returns to National Stadium
For the last two years, Philippe Richards, has not been able to travel out Thailand, where she has lived since 2016, due to the pandemic.
But with cross-border travel restrictions eased, the 47-year-old Briton finally got onto a plane and her destination was a familiar one, to the Lion City to watch the HSBC Singapore Rugby Sevens.
Richards, who was last in the Republic for the 2019 edition, said: "We don't get a lot of live rugby in Thailand and it's a relief to be able to come here. It's a step forward from living a life cooped up inside our homes in the last few years."
Her experience can be retold by the thousands of fans on Saturday (April 9) inside the 55,000-seater National Stadium, which is hosting the Sevens tournament for the first time in almost three years.
Retiree Barry Yon, 82, flew from Melbourne to visit his daughter here and was thrilled to slot in some live sports. The Australian said: "Sevens rugby is fast flowing and you get to see a variety of teams over two days. I've loved the atmosphere today... it's good to see Singapore moving towards re-opening again."
There was certainly a semblance of normalcy in the stands - Fijian supporters easily spotted thanks to their blue wigs alongside England fans wrapped in their country's flag with many holding a beer in their hand - even if there were plenty of empty seats.
The 2019 edition drew 57,000 to the National Stadium over two days but this year, daily attendance is capped at 12,000 as part of safe management measures and spectators must submit a self-administered negative antigen rapid test (ART) result before gaining entry.
All Blacks fan Nicholas Tan, 28, who is self-employed, said "I'm sure when I head out of here and put my mask back on, the realisation that we are all still very much living through a pandemic will hit me again but for several hours today, this was almost therapeutic to just enjoy myself with some food and live sports.
"I can't wait to be back tomorrow."
While the Republic has hosted several major sporting events like last December's Asean Football Federation Championship during the pandemic, the Singapore Sevens is the first which has allowed F&B options, including alcohol, within the spectator stands.
It was another step in the right direction, noted 40-year-old Singaporean Yong, who works in real estate. He added: "To be able to eat and drink in the stadium is very much welcome because I've been here a few times to watch football but I found it very odd that we could not even drink water then.
"Today feels a lot more like normal times."
There were some surprises on the field though as South Africa, who have won all four legs of this season's World Rugby Sevens Series, saw their 36-game winning run snapped by the United States after a 12-7 Pool A loss.
Two-time Olympic champions Fiji also stumbled, losing 21-12 to Ireland in their Pool D opener.
But both sides recovered to reach Sunday's Cup quarter-finals and will be joined by New Zealand, Australia, Argentina, Samoa, USA and Ireland.
Blitzboks captain Siviwe Soyizwapi summed up how the 16 participating teams felt, saying: "It's been a good atmosphere. We had been told that there would be a maximum of 12,000 people here but it sounds like a full stadium in here. We were feeding off the crowd's energy."