All Blacks-Wallabies plan delights HK

PUBLISHED : Monday, 16 July, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 16 July, 2007, 12:00am

Union hails proposal for clash of the titans in SAR as important for the region

A proposed clash-of-the-titans encounter between the All Blacks and Wallabies at Hong Kong Stadium would be a major boost for the game in Asia, officials said yesterday.

The Hong Kong Rugby Football Union (HKRFU) revealed that it was in negotiations with the Australia and New Zealand unions to stage a match between the two sides in Hong Kong late next year.

'Having a match of this magnitude would be important for the game in Hong Kong and the region,' said HKRFU commercial manager Warrick Dent.

Both southern hemisphere unions are keen to exploit the potentially huge commercial markets in Asia, particularly in China.

Australia already have an official development and commercial accord with Japan, while China is regarded as a sleeping giant of world rugby and offers a potentially lucrative market for merchandising.

It is understood the initial proposal was for the test match to take place in China, but the popularity of the Hong Kong Sevens was what won the right for the SAR to be a possible venue. Both sides are to tour Europe next November, with schedules yet to be finalised, and the game's timing will depend on whether New Zealand adds an extra game to the European tour.

From a local point of view, the match would be of enormous benefit to the development of the game. 'It will bring a huge opportunity to promote rugby in Hong Kong and in Asia,' HKRFU community manager Robbie McRobbie said.

'Wimbledon has just finished, and back in the UK over the next few weeks youngsters will be out playing tennis for the first time, because suddenly they've been exposed to the sport. That's the kind of effect a match of this magnitude would have here.'

However, the news was not meet with universal approval. New Zealand's Sunday News was particularly scathing about the proposed encounter yesterday.

'All Blacks supporters have been starved of quality rugby this winter with games against France 'C', Canada and South Africa 'C',' the paper said. 'Now the rugby public has been dealt another blow with few supporters likely to be able to afford tickets and accommodation packages for the November 2008 test in Hong Kong. In a worrying trend, the game will be reduced to gimmick proportions as the Bledisloe Cup will not be up for grabs, even though it will be an official test.'

In The West Australian newspaper, Wallabies coach John Connolly gave guarded support for the concept of playing more tests in the likes of Hong Kong but was worried about overdoing the All Blacks-Australia rivalry.

'It's good for the back pocket I suppose,' he said. 'We're playing each other a lot and I noticed last year for the first time we had six Tri-Nations games.

'It's tough, it means you are playing the All Blacks four times in the year.'

But whether it is viewed as a huge honour for Hong Kong or a cynical money-making exercise for the respective unions, an All Blacks versus Wallabies confrontation in Hong Kong is guaranteed to generate massive interest across the region.