Pacific Rim teams urged to improve rugby standards

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 07 July, 1996, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 07 July, 1996, 12:00am

CANADIAN rugby union coach Ian Birtwell has asked Hong Kong and the other competitors in the inaugural Pacific Rim Championship to set their sights higher in an effort to compete with the world's top teams.

He believes the competition is useful for giving teams like Canada and the USA the chance to develop players and get regular international match experience. Last Saturday, Canada were humbled 76-9 by Australia in a one-off Test in Brisbane - a result that starkly shows the difference between the world's top teams, and countries like Canada and the USA who belong to the second tier. Birtwell said: 'We cannot afford to look at the Pacific Rim Championship as the end of it all.

'When you look at what happened to us in Australia, you realise how far behind we are.

'We can compete effectively amongst ourselves as this competition has proved. But we are out of our league when we come up against the big boys,' Birtwell added. Hong Kong, who have aspirations of joining the second tier, face a stern test when they take on Canada in the return leg this morning (Hong Hong time). The territory were beaten 18-12 in the home game and will have a tough task stopping Canada who, for the first time in this competition, will be fielding their full-strength side. Birtwell said: 'This competition has been especially useful for us because we can expose new players and experiment with our side.

'We have brought along a couple of players like lock forward Tony Healy. 'All four teams [in the championship] have been competitive and this is good for the game. But we must look ahead and address the issue of professionalism and how the big unions have adapted. Sides like ours, who lack money and ability, will always end up being beaten.' In hindsight, Birtwell said it was fortunate that the defunct Pan Pacific Series had been replaced by the Pac-Rim Championship. 'That [old] tournament would not have been feasible as there would have been too many games, especially for a team like ours. We would have been stretched thin, in terms of manpower and funds. 'But this competition is great and has a future. It has provided all of us with competitive games.' However, he warned that teams had to be realistic about the standard of their own game.

'The big boys [like South Africa, New Zealand, Australia and England] are streets ahead in every department. And we must aspire to join them.'