Hong Kong rugby will soon stir itself from the somnolence of summer as players begin to dust off their boots for the start of the 1996-97 season which is going to be a landmark year. This auspicious season - the last campaign before the sun goes down on the Empire - will doubtless raise a lump in the throats of all traditionalists. It will kick off with the Aberdeen Sixes on September 28. While the rank and file will have to wait until late next month to kick a ball competitively, the territory's elite go into action at the end of this month at the Cobra 10s tournament in Kuala Lumpur. This is the first of many assignments for the national team who face the busiest international season in Hong Kong history. The Hong Kong team will play 12 Tests during the 1996-97 season, five of them at home. This full calendar of rugby is a far cry from the not too distant past when Hong Kong rugby had to scratch around for foreign opposition or wait for the Asian Championships which came around every two years. Today, the picture has changed, thanks to the Pacific Rim Championship where the territory is ensured of playing a standard of rugby higher than their own. The four Unions - Canada, Japan, USA and Hong Kong - met in Vancouver last weekend and reiterated their commitment to this event for another year. They also looked back at the cost of staging the inaugural tournament, probably with some regret that there was no sponsor to carry the load. Both Pieter Schats and Dave Roberts, senior officials of the Hong Kong Rugby Football Union (HKRFU), took evasive action when the question was raised as to what Hong Kong's share of the bill was. The original plan was that all four Unions would split the costs and share all revenue. According to the HKRFU, financially the Pacific Rim Championship 'more or less met the budget' in its first year. Is it money well spent? It is, in terms of providing Hong Kong's top rugby players a regular and competitive schedule. However, there is the question if it is really suited to Hong Kong's long-term development programme which is to bring on the local players. Only time will tell if such expenditure in the name of lifting the profile of Hong Kong rugby is worthwhile. Meanwhile, enjoy this landmark year. You can tell your grandchildren that you played in the season of the handover. I'm sure it will be a good tale.