'Strong chance' British Lions will stop over in Hong Kong
English president-in-waiting says discussions are being held over British and Irish team stopping in HK on their way to New Zealand
English Rugby Football Union president-in-waiting Jason Leonard has said there is a strong possibility the British & Irish Lions could revisit Hong Kong in 2017 on their way to New Zealand, adding this summer's stopover was an "important step" in their triumph in Australia.
"I would advocate the Lions playing a game on their way to New Zealand, and I believe they are thinking about it again. It will either be here or perhaps go the other way around and play a game in the United States. I think it is being talked about at the moment," said Leonard, who was in town for the Hong Kong Sevens Long Lunch yesterday.
Hong Kong Rugby Football Union chairman Trevor Gregory confirmed an official bid to get the Lions again was on the cards.
"We have asked the Lions if they would like to stop over on their way to New Zealand in 2017," Gregory said. "They [the Lions committee] are currently considering all their options."
In June, the Lions met the Barbarians for the first time outside Britain and scored a convincing 59-8 victory. The game was marked by water breaks to counter the hot and humid conditions and received plenty of criticism in the British media who felt the tour party would have been better off flying directly to Perth.
But Leonard, who is set to take over the presidency in 2015, said the historic match had done a world of good for the Lions.
"It was the right thing to do bringing the Lions on the road to Hong Kong, which is a hotbed of rugby," Leonard, 45, said. "Australia didn't have enough big games before the test series began and playing the Barbarians here was perfect. The question always was the logistics of stopping over in Hong Kong and I thought it made perfect sense.
"Lots of people were critical at the time, but once the Lions tour ended in a success, I think everyone realised it was the right thing to do. It was an important step in a long journey and played a part in the end in them winning." Leonard also backed the HKRFU's bid to co-host a couple of games of the 2019 Rugby World Cup with Japan. England, who will host the 2015 edition will set a precedent by allowing games to be played at Millennium Stadium in Cardiff.
"It would be brilliant if Hong Kong was to host a couple of matches in 2019," Leonard said. "I don't know what the logistics of 2019 will be, but the idea of a World Cup, which is readily accessible to the fans is great.
"Japan has the infrastructure in place already because of the football World Cup they hosted, but Hong Kong is not far away from Japan and if they put their hands up it will be fantastic," he said.