China eyes own sevens spectacle, but not now
China would dearly love to hold a mainland equivalent to the Hong Kong Sevens, but national coach Johnny Zhang Zhiqiang believes it would be premature to even contemplate such an idea right now.
The sport is still a novelty on the mainland despite increased backing from the government due to the game's Olympic status. Zhang, a well-known face in local rugby circles and the highest points-scorer of all time at the Hong Kong Sevens, says it would be rash to host a similar event now.
'We can do it, but we would need to lower our expectations,' Zhang told the China Daily. 'Rugby has a long history in Hong Kong. I played there for four years and I saw a lot of kids taking part in the sport. Most people on the mainland have no idea about rugby and there is also nothing on TV.'
China booked their berth at the Cathay Pacific/HSBC Hong Kong Sevens from March 23-25 by finishing third in the HSBC Asian Sevens Series last season.
With rugby sevens included as an Olympic sport in Rio de Janeiro in 2016 a large number of mainland provinces have taken up the sport as they prepare for the next National Games. But for now Zhang has to rely mostly on the PLA for his recruits to the national team.
China will face Hong Kong, Tonga and Uruguay in pool D in the second-tier HSBC Sevens World Series qualifiers. Last year, China defeated Hong Kong in the Shield quarter-finals and the hosts are wary of them
'We never know what will turn up in their 12-man squad with a lot of investment and development. We know the way China play but are also aware that they are investing on improving,' Hong Kong coach Dai Rees said.
The game's mainland roots might be at the China Agricultural University in Beijing, but today Shanghai is leading the way, says Zhang.
'Many kids from international schools in Shanghai are playing rugby. Their parents have seen the sport overseas, and they want to teach their children discipline and strengthen their minds through it,' Zhang said.
'Nowadays, Chinese children are becoming selfish and don't like to share with others. Therefore, we should put them in team sports to teach them how to survive in a community, which is beneficial to their development.' He added: 'We also need to bring up more young coaches besides training kids. I hope this will lead to a snowball effect in China.'
Points scored by Johnny Zhang at the Hong Kong Sevens, a record he still holds