Hey World Rugby, don’t you dare deny Hong Kong the chance to build on their debut Women’s Rugby World Cup campaign
It might be the Guinness talking, but it seems the positives outweigh the negatives in Dublin and there’s no doubt Ireland would be the perfect place for the 2023 men’s showpiece
“Guinness is good for you,” read the sign in one of Dublin’s fine establishments – The Auld something, from memory – and, after a couple of weeks in Ireland’s capital, it’s pretty tough to argue.
Amid all the hoopla around the structure of the Women’s Rugby World Cup, the state of the women’s game and Ireland’s audition for the 2023 men’s World Cup, it’s hard to be anything but chuffed after chatting to those inside the Hong Kong camp.
Their positivity is infectious and has rubbed off, although on second thoughts the breakfast Guinness may also have had something to do with love for all things Dublin.
When asked of his country’s chances of hosting the 2023 World Cup, a man in the tournament’s fan zone sporting an impressive crimson hue roared “It must be Ireland”.
No rebuttal here mate – if there’s one thing this mob are good at, it’s hosting.
My attempt at juggling an Irish whiskey, a Smithwick’s red ale and a pint of the black stuff at the media drinks night are proof of that.
Heck, even the girl from the Irish Rugby Football Union that for a time made tournament accreditation seem about as attainable as time travel turned out to be a ripper.
In all seriousness though, the Hong Kong team are loving every minute of their World Cup journey and captain Chow Mei-nam is standing front and centre.
— World Rugby (@WorldRugby) August 17, 2017
The look of sheer joy on her face after her side went down 98-0 to Canada – a thumping in anyone’s language – showed that this experience is about much more than winning and losing.
Talk of Hong Kong’s 121-0 loss to New Zealand being bad for the game will mean little to the group, who are realistic about where they stand, but have high hopes about where they are heading.
Persistent Hong Kong finally on the board at the Women’s Rugby World Cup with two tries in 39-15 loss to Wales
It is for this reason – among others – that fears of this being one of the last women’s World Cups and the general ill-feeling around the women’s 15s game must be allayed by World Rugby.
While sevens is commanding more and more attention – and funds – there are still teams that are taking 15s seriously, even if none are willing to commit to having full-time players.
“We will continue to build on the legacy that these girls are setting,” says Dai Rees, the Hong Kong Rugby Union’s chief rugby operations officer.
“It’s worth reminding everyone that just over 20 years there was a scoreline of 145-7 between New Zealand and Japan in the first men’s World Cup and in 2015 Japan beat South Africa.
“I’m not saying that is going to happen with Hong Kong’s women, we have got a small player base, but we have got to keep investing in the regional game.
“There are nations out there that want to protect this form of the game and we will continue to invest in it.”
— World Rugby (@WorldRugby) August 17, 2017
While for Hong Kong this only means a part-time performance programme for non-sevens players, at a time when Japan are turning their focus fully towards sevens in the lead up to Tokyo, Hong Kong won’t be easing off on their 15s commitments.
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“If we were to drop our 15-a-side programme for two years we would go back by six or seven years, we have got to keep developing 15-a-side players and maintain international status with four or five fixtures a year,” Rees says.
“In Asia, sevens is the developing sport, the Olympics are in Asia next time and without a doubt sevens will be the focus.
“But after this [World Cup] legacy, we will do whatever it takes as a union to retain our interest with a performance platform for 15s, but I don’t think the game itself globally warrants full-time 15-a-side women’s programmes.”
That’s the key – the women’s 15s game must find a happy medium so that it can exist at a sustainable level.
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As long as there are teams willing to commit to it going forward, there must be World Cup’s for them to strive towards, and as long as World Rugby can find boutique venues like the University College of Dublin in welcoming cities like this one, World Cups should continue to thrive.
To me, there’s plenty to be positive about, but maybe I’ve just taken to this city and it’s delicious drop a fraction too well.