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HKRFU chief Trevor Gregory raises hopes of future visits by Lions

Chief Gregory says after success of Saturday's visit to city ahead of Australia tests, HKRFU is keen to schedule trips in 2017 and 2021

PUBLISHED : Monday, 03 June, 2013, 3:21am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 18 February, 2014, 4:35pm
 

The British & Irish Lions could be stopping over again in 2017 on their way to New Zealand, and in 2021 before South Africa, if ambitious plans by the Hong Kong Rugby Football Union bear fruit.

HKRFU chairman Trevor Gregory yesterday revealed there was every intention of hosting the Lions in the future on their way to play against the giants of southern hemisphere rugby.

"We have had a successful first stopover and we hope there will be many more," Gregory said. "From talking to the Lions management after the game, the initial feeling I got is that this is something they will definitely look at again.

"The only slight negative was the weather, but apart from that everyone from coaches to players loved Hong Kong."

Gregory said weather would not be a factor once the stadium at Kai Tak was built. The complex at the old airport site is expected to be ready by 2019.

"The new stadium will have a roof and the temperature inside the stadium can be controlled," Gregory said. "We will push for a game every four years. The target now is to put it on the calendar as a regular fixture. Once the tour of Australia is over, we will start talking once again and see how big an appetite there is for the Lions to return."

The first meeting between the Lions and the Barbarians on Hong Kong soil had been widely criticised for a number of reasons ranging from organisers pandering to commercial interests, the high costs of tickets - with only 28,643 fans turning up - and the ill-effects the Hong Kong weather would have on the players.

On the latter subject, Lions head coach Warren Gatland in his post-match assessment on Saturday night said the Hong Kong stopover had been a success.

"Hong Kong has been good preparation," Gatland said.

"We've had a chance to look around Hong Kong, and the guys have had time to bond as a team without some of the interferences and intense scrutiny that we'll see when we get down to Australia."

The benefits of playing in hot and humid conditions were also likened by the Lions coaching staff to playing at altitude and it would be hugely beneficial to the team over the next few weeks.

Scrumhalf Mike Phillips told the BBC the match would do the Lions "a world of good". "It's a great way to start the tour and we can push on from here," he said.

The Lions play three tests against the Wallabies with the first on June 22 in Brisbane. Gatland's men are hoping to break a 16-year winless series drought.

Gregory stressed that rugby had been the driving force behind the visit and not commercial interests - even though the game earned television and broadcasting revenues of about HK$120 million, which went into the Lions' pockets. Despite it not being a sell-out, Gregory revealed the game would result in a profit for the HKRFU.

"This game was absolutely driven by rugby reasons," Gregory said. "The Lions felt that a stopover in Hong Kong would help bring the side together faster and I believe this was the case. As for ticket pricing, we didn't control that fully as they had a say.

"We came to the pricing structure together. If we are in a position to do this again, we will review it and see how low the lowest price must be and how high the most expensive ticket is.

"But what is interesting is that on Saturday, all the high-end tickets were sold. I'm not saying we got it wrong, but we will look at this for future Lions games as well as other international fixtures we plan to put on."

The Lions left yesterday for Perth to play their first game on Australian soil against Super Rugby's Western Force on Wednesday.

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