Wallabies-All Blacks HK test 'closer'
Australian representative says chances 'looking good' after key meetings with officials
The bid to bring an All Blacks-Wallabies clash to Hong Kong has moved a step closer with top Australian Rugby Union (ARU) official Matt Carroll giving the thumbs-up after a series of meetings with government officials and corporate sponsors.
'It is looking good. If everything goes according to plan, we could see an international being played in Hong Kong late next year,' Carroll, the ARU's deputy chief executive, said yesterday.
Australian and New Zealand rugby officials have been in Hong Kong since Sunday and with the help of the Hong Kong Rugby Football Union (HKRFU) - which originally proposed the idea - have held a series of meetings with officials, including InvestHK and the Hong Kong Tourism Board, on the feasibility of the southern hemisphere rivals playing a test match at Hong Kong Stadium in October or November 2008.
'We have had a number of very positive meetings and met senior people in Hong Kong including Timothy Fok (Tsun-ting, president of the Hong Kong Olympic Committee and a legislator). At this stage we are just educating them on the benefits of having the All Blacks and the Wallabies play in Hong Kong,' said Carroll.
While logistical obstacles still needed to be cleared, the biggest hurdle will be to get the blessing of the International Rugby Board (IRB).
It would be the first meeting of Australia and New Zealand at a neutral venue, except for the World Cup.
'Our two sides have never played in a neutral venue other than at a World Cup. The reason we are expanding our boundaries is because the future is in Asia. Our sport has to recognise the importance of Asia,' Carroll said.
Carroll was instrumental in Australia becoming part of the Asian Football Confederation in his previous role as head of operations with the Football Federation of Australia.
'Australian [soccer] moved to Asia because we knew how important it was. Similarly, world rugby has to realise Asia's value,' said Carroll.
The three unions will broach the subject of holding a fully fledged test match in Hong Kong with the world governing body at the IRB's annual meeting next month.
HKRFU executive director Allan Payne rated the chances of the game being played at 80 per cent.
'Obviously we are looking for government support on this,' Payne said. 'I believe we have a very good chance of pulling it off and if this is successful it could be the forerunner of other similar games in the future.'
Australia are set to play nine tests next year - seven against South Africa and New Zealand - and two against Ireland and France. The first of these tests is on June 14 (Ireland in Melbourne) and the last the Tri-Nations encounter against the Kiwis in Brisbane on September 13.
'Both Australia and New Zealand will be travelling to Europe for our spring internationals and stopping over in Hong Kong would be suitable,' said Carroll. 'It would be a great opportunity to give Hong Kong fans a taste for real rugby as opposed to the sevens. We will both field full-strength teams and it will be a proper international.'
The full backing of the Hong Kong government and other agencies will be required if the game is to become a reality, according to both Payne and Carroll.
'We are seeking strong government support on this,' Payne said.
Carroll added: 'It is very important for the Hong Kong government to be supportive.
'Everything looks good. We are continually ticking off the boxes. I'm very hopeful the All Blacks and the Wallabies will play in Hong Kong.'