Leg injury rules out Williams
Hong Kong will miss the once-in-a-lifetime chance to watch Welsh flier Shane Williams in action after the world's third-highest try-scorer was forced to pull out of today's Chartis Cup.
Williams, the World Player of the Year in 2008, failed to recover from a hamstring injury he suffered in his last game as a professional, playing for the Barbarians against Wales in Cardiff last weekend.
It's a big blow as the 35-year-old winger was one of the biggest names in a star-studded line-up to take on the Saracens at Hong Kong Stadium. The BGC APBs (formerly known as the Asia-Pacific Barbarians) include former All Blacks Mils Muliaina - 100 caps for New Zealand and a World Cup winner last year - plus Jerry Collins, Rico Gear and Troy Flavell. Other big names include Wales flanker Martyn Williams (100 caps) England No 8 Nick Easter, Samoa centre Seilala Mapusua and former Japan captain Takuro Miuchi.
'It is unfortunate he won't be able to play, but at least he has turned up in Hong Kong, thus honouring his commitment,' said a spokesman for the organisers.
Williams scored 58 tries in 87 appearances for Wales. Physically slight - he joked yesterday that everyone in the APBs towered over him - he ended an illustrious career against Australia last December, scoring with his last touch of the ball. He finished behind Japan's Daisuke Ohata (69) and Wallaby David Campese (64) on the world's top try-scorers' list.
'But the one which will always stand out is my first try [against Italy]. That will always be special, your first international try,' said Williams.
'It looks like I'm lying when I say size doesn't matter, especially to these guys who are dwarfing me. I like to think I can inspire the smaller man, or the smaller boy really, to compete against bigger guys and get the better of them.'
His absence will put more responsibility on Muliaina, who said the heat could be the biggest obstacle for the players. 'It's not good news for me because we were supposed to rotate,' he said. Both teams have also agreed to water-breaks midway through each half, but as Muliaina joked, Saracens had knocked back the idea of having rolling subs during the game.
It will be all business for the Saracens as they take the first step in taking their brand overseas. The English Premiership side hope to one day become rugby's version of Manchester United, but chief executive Edward Griffiths insisted the London club were 'more about broadcasting values than selling jerseys'.
'Manchester United are a football club popular in the East, but Hong Kong is a rugby venue and known around the world as such so it makes perfect sense to be here selling our brand. But we are more about broadcasting the values of our club, which is built on honesty, work ethic and discipline than about selling jerseys,' said Griffiths.
In a bid to raise the profile of the club overseas, Saracens, captained by former England skipper Steve Borthwick, jumped at the invitation to appear in Hong Kong in a game primarily designed to raise funds for charity - the flood victims in Thailand last year.
'We don't want to be a club that just sits in north London but one that plays around the world,' Griffiths said.
'We were in Abu Dhabi and Cape Town earlier this year. Rugby has brands, mostly international, and we want our club to be a brand name as well. Over the past three years Saracens has come to be recognised as a club that is innovative and that's why we are here this weekend.'
The trips to Abu Dhabi and Cape Town didn't involve any matches - at the latter venue due to events outside their control - and this will be their most far-flung match to date. There are also plans in the pipeline to visit Brussels and New York.
But first up is Hong Kong. And the absence of Williams might just about give Saracens the edge as they look for a winning start to their foreign venture.