Hong Kong urged to field rugby team in Japan's Top League
Blossoms coach Jones says Top League move is only way to close gap on champions
Hong Kong has again been asked to field a team in Japan's professional Top League - this time by Brave Blossoms' head coach Eddie Jones, who believes a franchise based here would help the national squad close the gap on the perennial Asian champions.
"It is time for Hong Kong to think seriously about having a team of full-time professionals in Japan's premier competition," said Jones, who was here at the weekend for the Asian Five Nations Top Five competition.
"The Japan Rugby Union isn't doing enough to promote the game across the rest of Asia and I believe such a move would help the game in the region.
"Apart from Hong Kong, countries such as South Korea should also look at having a team in his league. It would help develop the game in their countries."
The Japan Top League comprises 14 teams, mostly backed by large corporations. Launched in 2003, it has been credited with raising standards in Japan - ranked No15 in the world - largely due to the introduction of full-time professionals, mainly from Australia and New Zealand.
"Just imagine having teams from Hong Kong and South Korea in this competition, or even playing in a regional club championship like soccer's AFC Champions League," said Jones. "This would generate a lot of interest and help raise the standards of the game."
Three years ago, a similar idea was mooted by Jones' predecessor, John Kirwan, and it was supported then by the Hong Kong Rugby Football Union's national coach Dai Rees.
Rees said at the time: "I don't think we are ever going to close the gap on Japan until we seriously handle the performance end. And the only way to do this is to look at the prospects of having a Hong Kong franchise in their professional league."
Hong Kong were beaten 38-0 by Japan on Saturday, one of the closest results ever. Current head coach Leigh Jones had hinted that unless a full-time 15s programme was taken on board, Hong Kong would always struggle against Japan.
HKRFU chairman Trevor Gregory said any decision would have to wait until it is known if the sevens team qualify for the IRB World Series in London next month.
"We will have to see what happens with sevens first. We have a small player base and fielding a franchise in the Japan Top League, while sounding good, is a bridge too far," he said.