Guangzhou set to host leg of IRB women's sevens
Guangzhou is set to host a leg of the IRB Women's Sevens Series next year after the world governing body said China's third largest city would become the mainland's rugby hub.
Rugby in China received a significant boost with the International Rugby Board signing a memorandum of understanding with Guangzhou and the Chinese Rugby Football Association.
'Guangzhou is set to become a centre of excellence and a genuine hub for the sport in China,' said Mark Egan, IRB head of development and performance.
'With more than 80 per cent of the world's youth in Asia, this region has been identified by the IRB as a key growth area for the game, and this memorandum of understanding is another step forward in that regard.'
Trevor Gregory, Hong Kong Rugby Football Union (HKRFU) chairman, said the agreement was likely to result in Guangzhou hosting a leg of the IRB Women's Sevens Series, scheduled to begin next year.
'It won't have any impact on us other than the possibility that the IRB might have a leg of the proposed Women's Sevens Series in Guangzhou,' Gregory (pictured) said.
'I know Guangzhou has offered to host this tournament. Anything they do will be involved around sevens. That is what they are interested in.'
With all legs of the men's world sevens series already taken, Gregory said it was likely that the IRB would look at Guangzhou as a stopover for the women's circuit.
Gregory said: 'There is no need for the men's and women's series to be linked. The women can have separate destinations.'
Egan, who was in Guangzhou with Jarrad Gallagher, IRB general manager for Asia, has already had discussions with Chinese authorities on the possibility of staging future international tournaments in the city.
China became a member of the IRB in 1997 - its way paved by the HKRFU - but has struggled to make headway in the 15s game with the national men's team presently in Division Two of the HSBC Asian Five Nations. The women, however, have made significant progress, especially in sevens where they qualified for the 2009 Women's Rugby World Cup Sevens, winning the Bowl title.
The move by the IRB will add momentum to rugby on the mainland, which has taken off across more than a dozen provinces, which have all set up sevens squads as they prepare for next year's National Games.
Egan stressed that while hosting the international sevens in Guangzhou would be important, the IRB would also focus on grass-roots programmes.
'The IRB's commitment is to support the development of the game through the introduction of grassroots programmes in schools and universities, delivering extensive training and education programmes for coaches and referees and promoting the establishment of both domestic and international rugby events in the Guangzhou area,' Egan said.
There are presently 7,000 players in China and the IRB aims to double this number over the next 12 months. 'We have already witnessed a significant uplift in China, where rugby sevens will be included in the China National Games for the first time in 2013 and where the Asian Games sevens competition held in Guangzhou in 2010 attracted a capacity 30,000 crowd,' Egan said.
Japan continued their unbeaten reign at the HSBC Asian Five Nations Top Five competition, defeating South Korea 52-8 in Seoul yesterday. Veteran winger Hirotoki Onozawa grabbed a hat-trick as Japan scored eight tries to remain top with 18 points from three games.
Japan meet second-placed Hong Kong on Saturday in Tokyo, and coach Eddie Jones warned: 'Hong Kong will be stung by their loss to Korea and will be competitive.
'We have to keep improving, especially our ball retention and keeping the shape of our attack.'
In the other game this weekend, United Arab Emirates beat Kazakhstan 46-31 in Dubai. The victory could possibly see UAE stay in the Top Five next season.
The estimated number of rugby players on the mainland. It is set to double in the next year as the game takes off in over a dozen provinces