World Cup carrot a boost for professionalism

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 15 June, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 15 June, 2008, 12:00am

Hong Kong's move towards professionalism will gather momentum after they were handed a 'real chance' of qualifying for the 2011 World Cup.

The International Rugby Board confirmed yesterday that the second-best team at the 2010 HSBC Asian Five Nations will have another bite at the cherry and this could accelerate the move towards having full-time players according to Trevor Gregory, chairman of the Hong Kong Rugby Football Union.

'We have a great chance to get to the 2011 World Cup now that the IRB has confirmed that the second-placed team at the Asian Five Nations will be involved in another series of qualifying matches,' said Gregory.

'With this in mind, we will be seriously looking at the issue of having full-time players on a selective basis. This is under serious consideration and we will soon be making a decision on this.'

Gregory was speaking after attending the Asian Rugby Football Union council meeting in Bangkok where IRB officials Mike Miller (chief executive) and Mark Egan (head of rugby services) outlined Asia's prospective path to the World Cup finals.

'While Japan are obviously the favourites to win the tournament again in 2010 and gain automatic qualification, the second-best team will also have a realistic chance of qualifying,' Gregory said.

Hong Kong finished third, behind South Korea in this year's inaugural tournament. Japan claimed top spot with an unbeaten run.

Hong Kong's aim will be to finish at least second in 2010. If they achieve this, they will then play a one-off game against a team from the Americas - perhaps the United States or Uruguay - while in another consolation match, a team from Africa will take on a side from Europe.

'The winners of these two preliminary matches will then meet in a home-and-away tie to decide who goes through to the World Cup. This is great news for Hong Kong as I believe it increases our chances of qualifying,' Gregory said.