Lessons must be learned if British & Irish Lions return to Hong Kong

Hong Kong stopover was a qualified success, despite the naysayers, but there's plenty of room for improvement next time

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 09 June, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 18 February, 2014, 4:07pm

As a player, Paul Dingley never tried to over-complicate things on the field. It worked for the former Hong Kong captain and No. 8, whose trademark move from the base of the five-metre scrum nearly always guaranteed a try.

As a director of the Hong Kong Rugby Football Union today, Dingley revealed he was the recipient of plenty of hate mail panning the governing body for its role in the historic appearance of the British & Irish Lions last weekend. Durban-born Dingley has a simple and refreshing take on all the gripe and wrath emanating from a Hong Kong public critical of everything from the weather to the cost of a ticket. "The sad thing is that if the Lions had approached the HKRFU [about a game in Hong Kong] and the HKRFU turned it down, then you would get the same people berating the HKRFU for not agreeing to host the event. It will always be a lose-lose situation."

Dingley is right. Most of us are wired to look at the bad side of everything. There are people who would apply sunscreen and stay indoors on a lovely sunny day, those who view life as a glass half-empty.

The HKRFU had no control over the weather. But organisers [HKRFU and Lions] did the best to alleviate the conditions. Perhaps they added fuel to the fire by agreeing to two water breaks in each half. What they should have done was to allow the players to be cooled down at each break of play, when it was halted due to an injury or when a try was scored. This would have given the game a sense of continuity rather than the stop-start nature, especially in the first half.

As for the cost of tickets, the other main complaint, how can you argue when the HKRFU said the most expensive tickets (over HK$1,000) were those which were snapped up while the cheapest seats (HK$750) were the ones empty.

The HKRFU has promised to revisit the pricing structure next time. And there is a high possibility of a next time with union boss Trevor Gregory revealing plans are afoot to bring the Lions here again on their way to visiting one of the three southern hemisphere giants.

As far as the Lions were concerned, the Hong Kong stopover was a success. Warren Gatland and his coaching staff, as well as the players, believed the heat and humidity was akin to playing at altitude and would serve the side well in Australia. Then there was the slight matter of money. A British newspaper said TV and broadcasting revenue from the game would earn the Lions more than £10 million (HK$120 million). The HKRFU also said it would make a small profit.

Future visits by the Lions would be super. But the HKRFU needs to take control of the team opposing them. The Barbarians lost the plot when they failed to include Rowan Varty in the picture.

This was all about the Lions. Who the opposition was really didn't matter for the fans. It would have been far better if the opposition fielded players more relevant to the local game. A great opportunity was lost to propagate the game among the local community whose only take on rugby is the Hong Kong Sevens.

In the days before the game, during the press conferences of both teams, there was not a single reporter from the Chinese media. It was the same even on match day with hardly a photographer or scribe from the local press. All this could have been different if we had Varty and even Salom Yiu Kam-shing in the opposing lineup.

Four years down the road, wouldn't it be far better if say Japan, with a sprinkling of Hong Kong players, took on the Lions? Japan by then would be pressing full steam ahead as they prepared to host the World Cup in 2019 and would relish the opportunity to take on the Lions.

That game would have more relevance to local and Asian rugby. Why bring a bunch of players, albeit in the famous colours of the Barbarians, to play a game which for them had no real significance?

How could a group of players, who the day before the game were shopping in Shenzhen for cheap watches, have the will and spirit to tame the Lions? Yes, we had a number of illustrious names among the Baa-Baas, and we saw spurts of brilliance from guys like Joe Rokocoko, but by and large they were making up the numbers. The only player who could have created a buzz - Varty - was missing.

Yes, bring the Lions back, but the HKRFU must get more involved and ensure the game has relevance to the local community.