Super 18
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Super opportunity: under-fire southern hemisphere championship has much to offer Hong Kong growth spurt

PUBLISHED : Friday, 03 June, 2016, 12:47am
UPDATED : Friday, 03 June, 2016, 1:46am

The new Super Rugby format has copped it from all angles this season, with every man and his dog offering their opinion on what is wrong with the current structure.

It may not be perfect but it is definitely not all bad, and there are not many competitions around the world that can offer as many as nine games over a weekend without a single clash in scheduling.

It’s a dream set-up for rugby mad fans, even if not all of the matches are worth waiting up for.

The finals structure that looks set to significantly disadvantage the New Zealand sides when it comes to finals has received plenty of heat, but on a positive note the ladder does currently contain the eight sides with the most points.

It may not finish up that way, as there is a chance a team from the Australasian group could finish on more points than a team from the South African group but miss out on the finals.

Wouldn’t there be a stink then.

But for now all is in some sort of order and the powers that be must be feeling a certain sense of relief.

The tide of criticism should die down over the next month, with the competition taking a break for the June international matches.

Even the break itself has drawn criticism and, with just three rounds remaining before finals, it is less than ideal, but it might just present an opportunity for developing teams like Hong Kong in the long term.

As the best of the best from Super Rugby head off on international duties, many of those remaining are left to maintain their match fitness at club level and in the gym.

This is where Hong Kong comes in.

It has long been stated here that more games against quality opposition is a key way to fast track Hong Kong’s progress.

Now that the elite rugby programme is in place, the Hong Kong players are going to want to be putting their hard work to the test where it matters – on the pitch.

A couple of games during June on the back of the Asia Rugby Championship against understrength Super Rugby sides looking for match practice could provide just that.

There is already a precedent in place with New Zealand’s Chiefs and Australia’s Waratahs set to take on Wales and England respectively during the international window.

These do take place as part of the Welsh and English tours to these two countries, but it surely isn’t much of a stretch for a team from Hong Kong to head off on a tour to NZ or Australia.

Hong Kong might not quite have the lure of a Wales or an England for a Super Rugby side, but every team has its needs and no doubt the chance to give young and fringe players exposure would appeal to many.

Rather than having players scattered about playing for their club teams, franchises could have them all together playing under the one game plan.

The matches would likely be one-sided – the Chiefs development side gave Hong Kong a fair touch up recently – but that doesn’t mean there wouldn’t be benefits for both parties.

It would give Super Rugby’s lesser lights game time in their clubs colours and offer priceless top-level experience for Hong Kong.

Hong Kong coach Leigh Jones has continually stated that the team is in a development stage, but if the 2019 World Cup is a genuine target then players need more exposure to high-intensity rugby.

They are certainly not going to get it in the HKRU Premiership and, although it would come on the back of a gruelling ARC schedule, the chance to escape the heat and humidity of Hong Kong should be enough to counter that.

One way or another, the five month break between the end of the ARC and the November tests is too long to maintain any sort of continuity.

Obviously the sevens Olympic repechage would have put paid to any such concept this year, but maybe this is something for Hong Kong to look at going forward.

After all, the reality is that finding more quality teams to play outside of the ARC and the Cup of Nations has proved tough for Hong Kong.

Thinking outside the square might be the way forward and, as a now professional team, Hong Kong must start making things happen.