Natixis Cup here to stay as organisers target Kai Tak; Sharks prevail in brand-building exhibition clash
The Super Rugby outfit defeat French side Racing 92 in front of a better-than-expected crowd
There was brand building, a better-than-expected crowd, high hopes for the future of the event and even some rugby as the Sharks defeated Racing 92 31-14 in Saturday’s Natixis Cup.
The event is expected to break even and, more importantly, both sides gained the exposure they so highly sought from an exhibition game that organisers maintain is here to stay.
“It’s break even but it’s a game with this kind of event, it takes a long time to make money because you need to create a community,” said Philippe Spanghero from organisers Team One Groupe, the France-based events promotion company that works with a number of French and South African sides.
“It’s important for the clubs because they are always needing to find new revenue and new sponsors and it is important to develop their brand around the world, both teams are happy.
“Hong Kong is a specific place for that because all of the big sponsors of the rugby world have big commercial goals here.”
Team One Groupe is hoping to stage more rugby events in Hong Kong with the aim of creating “a dynamic around the rugby community outside the Hong Kong Sevens”, according to Spanghero.
Hong Kong Rugby Union chief executive Robbie McRobbie believes the Natixis Cup has the potential to become an event worthy of Hong Kong Stadium or Kai Tak Stadium.
Saturday’s crowd of 5,838 suggests there is plenty of work to be done to reach that level for an event the HKRU hope can one day compliment the Sevens.
“We have got one very successful event once a year [the Sevens] which is providing well over 90 per cent of our income,” McRobbie said.
“We want to build the interest and enthusiasm among the existing rugby community and also the wider community to bring more events to Hong Kong.
“We are very fortunate, because of the relationship with Team One, they have taken the financial risk.
“For us we’re in a very comfortable situation. There is an upside if things go very well, but we are not going to lose money. We will cover our costs.
“As we start to look forward to Kai Tak, all of the sports associations, with the encouragement of the government, need to be looking to build a portfolio of events if we’re not going to end up with a white elephant.”
There was a decrease in the crowd, with 6,173 through the gates for the last match in 2016, but that failed to dampen enthusiasm around a game that did achieve a real rugby feel at Aberdeen Stadium.
“There genuinely is a longer-term belief that if we are doing these events on a regular basis and people have a good experience, then 6,000 this year will be 7,000 next year and it will be 8,000 the year after,” McRobbie said.
The game wasn’t quite the try fest that was expected but there were plenty of highlights, with the Sharks intent on throwing the ball around.
Marius Louw crossed twice as the Sharks opened up a 19-0 lead, before Racing sprang to life and ensured a willing second half, with Xavier Chauveau and So’otala Fa’aso’o dotting down for the French side.
Cameron Wright, Curwin Bosch and Makazola Mapimpi were the Sharks’ other try scorers, while Hong Kong’s Matt Worley looked nervy early in a game that he said was far more intense than he could ever have expected.
“It was huge. The physicality of that game and the speed that they were playing at, it was a huge eye-opener,” said the 20-year-old, who was making his first senior start for Racing.