Rising Russia to join Portugal and Zimbabwe in Hong Kong Cup of Nations
Hong Kong will take the international game to the local community with an expanded home tests programme in November to be played at Shek Kip Mei, King’s Park and Hong Kong Football Club.
In a change from previous years, the Hong Kong Rugby Football Union will not just host one foreign team but put on the Hong Kong Cup of Nations, a four-team round-robin tournament which includes Portugal, Russia and Zimbabwe, in November. And in a bid to take the game to the community, the tournament will be staged outside its traditional setting at Sports Road.
“We want to spread the message around and we are looking at grounds like Shek Kip Mei and King’s Park, too,” said Dai Rees, HKRFU, general manager of performance. “The Cup of Nations will be a full round-robin competition comprising six matches and played over three match days.”
The tournament will come hot on the heels of the Asian sevens qualifying competition for the Olympics which will be played in the first week of November at Hong Kong Stadium.
“With three invited teams and played over a week, the stadium was not considered. It is better to take the game to the community and we hope we can attract large crowds,” Rees said.
Last year, Hong Kong hosted Russia in a two-test series. But in a bid to increase its test work-load to at least seven internationals a year, the union, with the assistance of World Rugby, has decided to expand the November internationals and has invited Portugal and Zimbabwe along.
“We have been working with World Rugby for a number of years to formalise a competition for Performance Two and Three level unions to ensure that we play the number of annual matches recommended for countries that aspire to reach the Rugby World Cup,” Rees said.“To reach the recommended seven to 10 annual fixtures, we needed to combine our Asia Rugby Championship campaign – four matches just concluded – with touring or bringing in international teams for home tests in November. The teams we invited are all ranked between 18 and 28 in the world, providing broadly competitive fixtures for Hong Kong,” Rees said.
Russia are the highest ranked team competing in the Cup of Nations, 19th in the World Rugby standings. Portugal are ranked 23 and Zimbabwe are 28. Hong Kong moved up two spots to 25th after finishing second in the Asia Rugby Championship.
“We want to push and pressurise ourselves over the coming few years. Having three teams of the calibre of Russia, Portugal and Zimbabwe coming here six months after the Asia Rugby Championship window will help us maintain intensity as we increasingly focus on our high-performance 15s programmes,” Rees said.