Talks strengthen hopes of Hong Kong entering team in Andrew Forrest’s Indo-Pacific Rugby Championship
Having a side in the new league could help lure top talent back to the city, says HKRU chief executive Robbie McRobbie
The prospect of Hong Kong having a team in billionaire Andrew Forrest’s Indo-Pacific Rugby Championship (IPRC) is gathering steam after officials from the competition visited the territory this week.
The IPRC, Forrest’s answer to Australian franchise the Western Force being cut from Super Rugby, could also feature a women’s competition and even sevens. It will launch in March 2019 and run for around three months.
Hong Kong Rugby Union chief executive Robbie McRobbie has labelled the concept “very positive” and believes it could be a vehicle to bring top quality Hong Kong-eligible players back to the territory.
“We had a visit from representatives from the Indo-Pacific Rugby Championship this week,” McRobbie said. “Subsequent to the meeting, we have sent them a message back saying that when it comes to looking at team selection we are interested to be part of that conversation.
“For us, up to this point it seems to fit in pretty well. The calendar wouldn’t impact too much on our domestic season.
“The fact we have got the existing elite rugby programme for men and men’s and women’s full-time sevens programmes, it makes sense for us to be looking for competition at a high level.”
The competition, which is working closely with Rugby Australia, Asia Rugby and World Rugby, will feature the Western Force and five other teams from the likes of Hong Kong, Singapore, Samoa, Fiji, Japan, China and Tonga.
While it is still early days, McRobbie says each team will feature a number of marquee players supported by the IPRC.
“They are very keen to create as much as possible an equal and competitive playing environment,” McRobbie said. “The model that they are looking at is to provide some centralised support for some players for each of the six teams.
“It’s not a rebel competition and we believe, based on what we have heard up to this point, that it could be a very positive development for rugby in the region.”
While the union has often had trouble retaining the best Hong Kong-eligible players due to opportunities elsewhere, the IPRC could change that.
Hong Kong Rugby Union open to featuring in Australian mining magnate Andrew Forrest’s ‘IPL of rugby’
Where Forrest has spoken about bringing back Australian players that have chased money overseas, McRobbie is hopeful Hong Kong will be able to do a similar thing.
“They were very clear that their approach would be tailored to the individual teams and the individual markets,” he said.
“Obviously our first choice would be to find the Hong Kong eligible players that are playing abroad at a higher level to see how many of them would be interested in coming back.”
On top of that, the new competition will provide obvious opportunities for Hong Kong to strengthen their senior side and compliment the elite rugby programme.
Could Hong Kong rugby entice the likes of superstar Dan Carter to head up a team in mooted Indo-Pacific league?
“We like the fact the IPRC are keen to ensure there are a minimum number of locally eligible players involved, which totally fits with our ethos,” McRobbie said.
“For us, clearly we want to be able to make use of our players as much as possible because it’s a great vehicle to give them exposure on a regular basis to help us take the national team up to a higher level.”
While no date has been set as to when the five additional teams will be selected, criteria Hong Kong must meet include depth of players, overall strength of rugby, facilities and the ability to attract a crowd.
Facilities are forever an issue here and whether the people would support the concept remains to be seen, but McRobbie believes Hong Kong will fare well in many areas.
“They have got set criteria that they are looking for; we might not be top of the list on all of them,” he said. “There are challenges, but I think in terms of coaching, administration, governance, we pride ourselves on being strong in those areas.”