Boots and all

Could Hong Kong rugby entice the likes of superstar Dan Carter to head up a team in mooted Indo-Pacific league?

Hong Kong must surely be favourites to win a franchise in Aussie billionaire’s proposed new competition – and even if that does not mean superstar players arriving, it could do wonders for the local player pool

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 23 September, 2017, 12:05pm
UPDATED : Monday, 25 September, 2017, 9:36am

Could Andrew “Twiggy” Forrest’s Indo-Pacific Rugby Championship see Dan Carter or another veteran great ply their trade in Hong Kong?

The way Forrest is talking, anything is possible – maybe even one of the all-time great All Blacks stepping out for a Hong Kong franchise.

There’s no harm in dreaming big and one would think Hong Kong are well placed to reap the rewards of Forrest’s cash dump.

On top of the Western Force, the mining magnate is looking to fill the remaining five slots in his rebel league with sides from the likes of Hong Kong, Singapore, Samoa, Fiji, Seoul, Tokyo, Shanghai, Tonga and Kuala Lumpur.

You’d think the strength of the Hong Kong Rugby Union and the professional structure here would make a compelling case for Hong Kong to win one of the slots on offer.

Just how this competition will look is anyone’s guess, but it’s suggested that each franchise could have a marquee player.

Maybe the union can give Carter a buzz and see if he wants to swing by on his way back from France when his contract with Racing 92 ends at the end of the season.

He’s no stranger to Hong Kong, having played here with Racing in the Natixis Cup against the Highlanders in 2016.

Perhaps that’s not the type of marquee player Forrest has in mind, with the billionaire suggesting his league can claw back Australian talent lost to lucrative deals overseas, but it’d be a good way to give the whole thing credibility.

Were Hong Kong to have a franchise, it would surely increase their standing as a destination for players.

Just who would be funding these marquee players – and recruits in general – remains to be seen, but a combination of Forrest’s riches and sponsorship could make for quite the kitty. It’s well-documented that the union isn’t short of a quid, either.

If the movement of top players from the southern hemisphere to the likes of the English Premiership and the French Top 14 has taught us anything, it’s that money talks, often louder than the lure of representing one’s country.

With World Rugby’s residency rules to be extended from three years to five years as of December 31, 2020, any player who arrives on our shores after this year will have to be here five years before being eligible to play for Hong Kong.

Hong Kong Rugby Union open to featuring in Australian mining magnate Andrew Forrest’s ‘IPL of rugby’

It’s a significant increase and one that will make it all the harder for the union to attract the players they need to keep improving on the international stage.

However, the chance to play in a competition that Forrest says could meet a similar standard as Super Rugby (I won’t be holding my breath) along with a hefty pay cheque could be reason enough for quality players to hang around here for five years.

While Carter would be out on King’s Park with a walking frame by the time he qualified, Hong Kong could all of a sudden become an appealing destination for much younger players who have missed the Super Rugby boat.

The reality is that if a Hong Kong side are to compete in a competition anywhere near the level of Super Rugby, they’ll need to call in plenty of reinforcements.

All Blacks World Cup hero Dan Carter to play in Hong Kong with his new club Racing 92

With the competition to start after next year’s Super Rugby season, it is hoped some Super Rugby players not in the Wallabies camp will play, along with the best from Australia’s National Rugby Championship.

To make the competition viable, you’d think these players would need to be shared around. Maybe Fiji or Japan could put up a competitive side under their own steam, but a few others would need some help.

As to whether Hong Kong can keep their players here for five years is a big if, but there are sure to be other positives.

Right now, the players in the elite rugby programme that aren’t eligible to represent Hong Kong are playing predominantly in the local Premiership, with the jump up to the top level still significant even if the union are working hard to close it.

As the British & Irish Lions and even Japan kick into gear, Hong Kong are whipping out the zinc cream and hitting the beach

A Hong Kong franchise would change that in a hurry. While other countries might also get a boost, Hong Kong have the infrastructure in place to make the most of any leg-up they get.

And if they can get Carter or one of his big-time mates to be the face of the Hong Kong franchise, all the better in encouraging players to give a move to Hong Kong some serious thought.