Hong Kong Premiership adopts more meaningful structure in preparation for World Rugby’s new residency rules
Fresh look creates clear player pathway as sponsor Old Mutual International commits to broadening the game’s reach in the territory
A new structure will give “more meaning” to the Hong Kong Rugby Union’s men’s domestic leagues, with preparation for the implementation of World Rugby’s extended residency requirement amping up in the 2017-18 season.
World Rugby will increase its eligibility period from three to five years on December 31, 2020 and the union is aiming to combat that with a domestic structure that sees the six Hong Kong Premiership teams have dedicated reserves sides in the revitalised Premiership A.
“With the new five-year law we’re going to have to develop Hong Kong players,” said Hong Kong Scottish coach Craig Hammond at Wednesday night’s season launch.
“It’s only going to be beneficial and it gives a bit more meaning to the leagues outside the Premiership. They’re putting a bit more emphasis on the Championship.”
There will be nine teams in the third-tier Championship and it is hoped there is now a clear pathway for talented youth to move through the grades to the top level.
“This season’s changes help establish a clear player pathway from youth rugby to senior and performance rugby,” HKRU chief rugby operations officer Dai Rees said.
“The new innovative approach will also facilitate the development of players across the rugby community and foster lasting links and cooperation between Championship and Premiership clubs.”
Also new this season is the Premiership’s sponsor, with Old Mutual International stepping in as the title sponsor of all of the men’s leagues.
The company, whose parent company Old Mutual Wealth is a principal partner of the Rugby Football Union, has committed to an initial one-year sponsorship and is looking to help promote rugby in the community to encourage more participation and interest in the sport.
“I think we need to look at how we can use the sponsorship through our distribution connections to broaden the understanding of what rugby is,” Old Mutual International Hong Kong chief executive Mark Christal said.
“You look at rugby and clearly the values that exist in rugby is what appeals to us. We want to help the community, we’re focused on prosperity and that’s not just wealth, it’s about well-being as well.
“You look at trying to encourage people to do sport from a health point of view, rugby is a fantastic example all round in terms of what it brings to people.”
Christal says that while it is still early days for the sponsorship and what Old Mutual International want to achieve, he is confident the partnership with the union will be mutually beneficial.
“There is branding attached to it, it’s how do we use that branding to help with our penetration in different markets,” he said.
“When you look at Hong Kong rugby, the great thing is from the outside looking in, everyone tends to have the view that rugby is expat, but in Hong Kong it clearly isn’t and there is strong diversity.
Handover effect and good planning leave Hong Kong well placed as World Rugby changes eligibility rules
“As a business that is here for the long term and trying to grow into the wider domestic market, that’s a strong appeal.”
The season kicks off with the traditional Super Saturday at King’s Park on September 23.