Pitch blackout increases burden on facilities for HKRFU ahead of new season
HKRFU struggling to keep up with demand ahead of new season - and severed power line further hampers preparations for champions Valley
A severed underground power cable near the rugby pitch at Happy Valley has put further strain on the Hong Kong Rugby Football Union's bid to provide its ever-increasing membership with sufficient facilities on which to train and play - and thrown off-kilter the preparations of last season's championship winners, WhichWay Valley.
The league season starts on Saturday, but the newly laid artificial Valley pitch is out of commission until the end of this month as the broken cable means the floodlights don't work. With five new teams this season in senior rugby - men's and women's - spread across eight divisions, this has placed more pressure on the provision of grounds by the HKRFU.
"It is big blow that the Valley pitch is unavailable," said HKRFU chairman Trevor Gregory. "Some contractor digging inside the Happy Valley racecourse accidentally cut through the power cables resulting in a blackout around the pitch. Hopefully, we will get it back soon."
Gregory said 74 teams would feature in a crowded fixture list every Saturday.
"We are victims of our own success. Every season more players and more clubs take the field and we have to find more grounds for them, not only to play, but to train also," Gregory said. "We are appreciative that the government [Leisure and Cultural Services Department] has been very helpful and we know they also have to look after other sports. But the biggest issue in Hong Kong is that we need more space for recreation and sport."
Valley's player-coach Nick Hewson admitted: "This has disrupted our pre-season training as we have had to split club trainings and have teams train at different venues and times based on pitch availability. "We appreciate all of the LCSD's efforts in trying to fix the problem and look forward to the lights being repaired soon."
Valley have five men's teams and two women's teams.
At the end of last season, the HKRFU feared that saturation point was close and there were worries a full round of fixtures on a Saturday would not be able to go ahead on the number of grounds available. But the addition of a new rugby facility at Tin Shui Wai, built solely with HKRFU funding, has alleviated the problem for the time being.
But this latest problem with the Valley pitch will put a strain on our resources," said Robbie McRobbie, HKRFU's head of operations. "The biggest problem is not on completing fixtures on a Saturday, but rather finding venues for Valley to train. We will have to make do until the end of the month when the government has promised the problem will be remedied.
"This season we have just about managed to keep pace with the expansion in teams. This problem has added a burden but we are coping with it," added McRobbie. "But the issue remains. The growth in playing numbers will increase over the next few years and we need to find more facilities."
Last week the HKRFU donated HK$13 million to three schools, including KGV, to improve their playground facilities. KGV, which is the biggest facility of the three, will only come on board in six months.
"Despite increasing facilities, our training and playing requirements have been pushed to the limit. Rugby needs more space," McRobbie said.
Apart from the 74 senior clubs, there are 20 mini-rugby clubs with more than 4,700 registered players. There are also more school and tertiary teams and an ever-increasing number in community programmes.