Hong Kong Rugby Union

Enter the South China Tigers, Hong Kong’s new team in Andrew Forrest’s Global Rapid Rugby series

  • Mining billionaire’s new series, set to kick off in February, will feature a team comprising Hong Kong’s elite 15s and sevens players
  • Formerly known as the World Series Rugby, the event looks to capitalise on increased exposure in Asia ahead of the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan
PUBLISHED : Thursday, 15 November, 2018, 1:04pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 15 November, 2018, 10:45pm

The South China Tigers, a team comprising players from Hong Kong’s Elite Rugby Programme, have signed on to compete in Australian mining magnate Andrew “Twiggy” Forrest’s newly created Global Rapid Rugby series.

Formerly called the World Series Rugby during its trial season earlier this year, the new series was created after Forrest’s Western Force team was booted from the Australian Super Rugby Conference in 2017.

Forrest, valued at about US$3.3 billion according to Forbes, would not divulge how much money he has spent, or is prepared to spend, to make the series work.

“When we broke into the global iron ore industry, it took seven or eight years to get a solid return,” he told the South China Morning Post.

“And we invested very heavily and we had a long-term vision and we stuck to it heavily. We didn’t let the availability of capital get in the way, we were always able to get capital for a fantastic vision and that’s what will happen here.”

According to a press release from Global Rapid Rugby, the 2019 season will start in late February with eight teams playing for A$1 million (HK$5.6 million) in prize money.

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The Tigers will join teams from across the Asia-Pacific region in 14 rounds of games (56 in total) plus four finals. The event has been sanctioned by World Rugby, subject to approval from various participating unions.

Hong Kong Rugby Union chief executive Robbie McRobbie said the games would most likely take place at Aberdeen Sports Grounds until the Siu Sai Wan Stadium is potentially available. He said the main benefit of getting on board with Forrest was boosting Hong Kong’s level of play.

“Across the board we’ve invested a huge amount of time and effort in developing rugby people over the past few years,” he said. “And while Asia Rugby continues to be the foundation of it all, and we remain committed to Asia Rugby, obviously as Japan have moved onwards and upwards, that’s left us and the other tops teams in Asia a little bit in limbo. I think this will give us the platform to really give everyone the chance to hone their skills at a higher, more international elite level.”

Some of the other potential teams include squads from Malaysia, Singapore, Japan, Fiji and Samoa.

“We have committed to recruiting around 20 of the best 100 players in the world today over the next two seasons,” said Forrest.

“They will be placed in different teams, depending on the team’s needs in the interests of creating a level field across all teams. We have already started, signing former All Black Jeremy Thrush to the Western Force.”

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Some of the rule changes for the series include reducing game times from 40-minute halves to 35, banning players from kicking from behind their own 22-yard line and rolling substitutions.

The idea, said Global Rapid Rugby’s head of rugby Matt Hodgson, is to “promote attacking, aggressive, high-scoring rugby”.

McRobbie said they have been working with Global Rapid Rugby and World Rugby on having this series as a potential testing ground for official rule changes down the road.

“We’re doing this very much in conjunction with World Rugby as well. This provides a good platform for them to look at little tweaks that might make the game more free-flowing, more high scoring, keeping the ball in play for longer periods. None of the law variations are too radical and are in line with the direction that World Rugby is looking.”

The games will also feature live entertainment and Global Rapid Rugby said the emphasis would be on increasing fan engagement through various means including social media.

The HKRU said the Tigers would feature players from both the 15s and sevens squads, and the union would also provide “competition management services” in coordination with Global Rapid Rugby.

A team logo, playing kit, management team and squad for the Tigers will be announced at a later date. The HKRU is also hoping the Tigers will eventually feature players from around the “Greater Bay Area”, referring to the Chinese government’s scheme to link Hong Kong and Macau and nine other cities on the mainland into an economic and business hub.

Talks strengthen hopes of Hong Kong entering team in Andrew Forrest’s Indo-Pacific Rugby Championship

McRobbie said they were confident Forrest can get the series off the ground and make it successful, which will invariably benefit the local scene.

“We continue to believe that Global Rapid Rugby can be a very positive development for Hong Kong Rugby and the game in Hong Kong and across the region,” McRobbie said.

“Given the establishment of our first ever professional rugby programmes in the last decade, and our current participation in the Rugby World Cup 2019 repechage in France, it makes sense at this juncture for the HKRU to seek out more and more competition at a high level.”

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