Heady rhetoric has been the order of the past few days as the sport celebrated China's debut on the international scene. Everyone has been caught up in the moment. Visions of millions of Chinese playing rugby, China's rise to world power and the sport's eventual Olympic inclusion have been raised. However, China's 33-3 defeat at the hands of Singapore was a splash of cold water. China's poor skills, a lack of tactical know-how and discipline, and general inexperience indicated that talk of them becoming a major world, or even Asian, power is premature. To be beaten comprehensively by the lowest-ranked side in Asia should have a sobering effect on all those who inferred China would transform the balance of power of world rugby in the next decade. It may be possible, 15 to 20 years from now, but it will require a lot of hard work and commitment, especially from the International Rugby Board (IRB). The IRB has been in a laudatory mood, pointing out China as a prime example of the growing international influence of the game across the world. But backing such grandiose words with deeds is what is needed as China take their first infant steps into the world of rugby. What must be remembered is that China's progress so far has come from luck and a few dedicated individuals - not a well-researched blueprint. The fact that they were playing their first international on Saturday night, only seven years after the game was first introduced in the country, is largely due to people like George Simpkin and K. K. Chiu - and a chance viewing of a television programme that informed the Hong Kong Rugby Football Union of the game's scheduling time in Beijing. If not for these factors, IRB officials would not have been congratulating each other so heartily. However, its self-congratulatory mood has created a feeling of optimism. And there is nothing wrong with that as long as the IRB follows up with hard monetary support. The IRB has asked China for a five-year development plan. It is felt that, once it acquires the knowledge, the Chinese Rugby Football Association (CFRA) is truly keen to spread the grassroots game, and will adequately finance it. Vernon Pugh, IRB chairman, acknowledges that China's progress so far has been borne out of circumstance, not through any calculated approach by the game's governing body. But, to be fair, he said that will change once the Chinese give him a comprehensive development plan. He wants the Chinese to start playing the game at an early age as he said he feels this is the only way they can truly become a force. 'No country can become a force in, say, five years. It will take at least a generation before the Chinese become a force. They must have players playing from an early age,' said Pugh. CFRA president Lou Dapeng said he was a firm believer in Pugh's philosophy. 'We have to start playing the game very young if we are to become a force, especially in seven-a-side,' said Lou. He should know. As a teenager, he played rugby at Mill Hall, an English public school in London. He was a flyhalf and he also captained the under-15 side. With such a person at the helm, perhaps there is hope that Chinese rugby will flourish in an organised and structured fashion. The IRB is now looking to appoint regional development officers. Hopefully, one of them will be stationed in this part of the world, with the specific brief of developing the game China. Chinese rugby's founding father, Cao Xihuang, has said he is optimistic that China can carry Asia's flag proudly. 'When we go and recruit the best from all over the land, then I think Chinese rugby will be of world standard. Just give us some time. By early next century maybe,' he said. The Chinese do appear to have time on their side. If the week's rhetoric is matched by deeds, then rugby could truly become a sport of the new millennium in China.