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British & Irish Lions

Hong Kong’s Rowan Varty invited to play for Barbarians against Lions

Sevens captain will become first local player to wear Barbarians colours when they face the touring side in Hong Kong

PUBLISHED : Monday, 22 April, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 11 July, 2015, 11:15am

Rowan Varty will turn out for the Barbarians in the historic offshore game against the British and Irish Lions on June 1 at Hong Kong Stadium.

The Hong Kong sevens captain expressed his delight yesterday and said he would proudly "fly the flag" for the local game. Representing the Barbarians is solely through invitation and it is the first time that a Hong Kong player has been asked to wear the famous colours.

"I'm just over the moon. I couldn't believe it when I heard that I had been invited to play for such a famous team and against the Lions, too. This is just unbelievable," Varty said.

The DeA winger will fly to London on May 22 to join the Barbarians squad under Wasps coach Dai Young as they prepare for the first of two games this season, against England on May 26 at Twickenham, followed by the momentous clash against the Lions, who will be stopping in Hong Kong on their way to Australia.

Varty, who will lead Hong Kong in their bid to become a core team on the IRB Sevens World Series at the London Sevens qualifiers early next month, as well as the Rugby World Cup Sevens in Moscow, said he had been caught by surprise when Hong Kong Rugby Football Union chairman Trevor Gregory broke the news to him last Friday.

"We all knew that there was a possibility that a Hong Kong player would be included in the Baabaas squad for the Lions game, but I thought that it would go to one of the 15s players and not anyone in the sevens squad. I was shocked when Trevor called me to say I had been picked. This is a massive honour for me," said Varty, who plays at wing or fullback in the 15s game.

With the focus divided on winning core-team status in the Sevens World Series next season, none of the 12 players in the sevens squad is in the picture for the Asian Five Nations Top Five competition, which began on Saturday with Hong Kong defeating the United Arab Emirates 53-7.

"We are delighted for Rowan. This is a huge honour for Hong Kong rugby and for the local rugby community. To have one of our own players turning out for the Barbarians is immense, and the fact that he will be playing against the Lions is just incredible," Gregory said.

Varty, 27, has been in the international limelight in the past. In 2008, he was invited by British touring side Penguins to play for them at the Rome Sevens.

"That was huge for me, but this is even bigger. This is the biggest honour that a player can be given. I will try to fly the flag proudly for Hong Kong," Varty said.

Varty, who has played eight times at the Hong Kong Sevens and also featured at the last two World Cup Sevens, joked: "I will have to brush up on my 15s skills. This is more about my nightmares coming true than my dreams - just imagine coming up against someone like George North [Wales winger] who is likely to run all over me."

His call-up to join the squad in training before the England game also throws up the prospect that the pocket-sized winger could also have a slim chance of playing at Twickenham. But Varty had his feet on the ground.

"Realistically I'm not getting too ahead of myself. My selection is more about flying the flag in Hong Kong. I suppose if I really impress them in training, I might have a chance but this is all about the game here. The local fans will be able to identify with me and I hope my presence will help raise interest in the game, especially among the local Chinese community," Varty said.

Gregory added: "His selection shows what can be achieved. This is a guy who has come through the ranks, from mini-rugby right up to senior level. It is a tremendous honour for him and for the local game and I'm sure Rowan will do us proud."