Super Rugby

Super Rugby’s Sunwolves out to win over Hong Kong fans ahead of 2019 World Cup in Japan

Jamie Joseph’s side take on South Africa’s Stormers in May in only the second rugby match at Mong Kok Stadium

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 08 March, 2018, 6:33pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 08 March, 2018, 10:52pm

Hong Kong are still in the running to qualify for the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan but the Sunwolves are looking to use May’s Super Rugby game at Mong Kok Stadium to win over a new legion of fans for their national side.

The Tokyo-based Sunwolves take on South Africa’s Stormers in the first ever Super Rugby game in Hong Kong on May 19 and co-captain Yutaka Nagare wants the locals to get behind his side.

“I’m very excited and looking forward to playing in Hong Kong for the first time,” he said. “I feel it is very important to build our fan base in countries such as Hong Kong by playing an exciting brand of rugby and hopefully that will lead to the prosperity of rugby in Asia.

“We want to attract as many people as possible so when it comes to the World Cup next year people from Hong Kong will come to Japan and support the Japan team.”

Perhaps the best way for the Sunwolves to get local fans on side would be to contract a Hong Kong player and coach Jamie Joseph wouldn’t rule out the move at some point in the future.

“I can only see Hong Kong rugby improving. There’s some players who could easily fit into our team,” said Joseph, who is also coach of the Japan national team and has had a first-hand look at Hong Kong through the annual Asia Rugby Championship.

“My perception of Hong Kong rugby before I turned up [for the ARC] was a bit off. I was so surprised at how professional it has become in Hong Kong over the last few years.”

The Sunwolves played three games in Singapore in each of their first two years in the Super Rugby competition and are looking to extend their reach in Asia as their performances on the field continue to improve.

“The whole reason we got involved in Super Rugby was to help develop the Japanese game and bring the Super Rugby competition into Asia,” Joseph said.

“Growing the game in Asia has been identified as the way forward in the future. I have been to Hong Kong playing rugby personally and that experience going to Hong Kong with the Highlanders [for the 2016 Natixis Cup] was outstanding.

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“The amount of support we received when we were in Hong Kong is only going to grow with such a huge Japanese community there, so we are really excited about this match.”

May’s clash will see rugby played at Mong Kok Stadium – the traditional home of Hong Kong soccer – for only the second time and the move is all part of the Hong Kong Rugby Union’s plan to reach out to the local population.

“We are delighted to be returning to the Mong Kok Stadium for the first time since 2012 as we continue our long-running drive to grow the game in our local community,” union chief executive Robbie McRobbie said.

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“Mong Kok’s location in the heart of Kowloon will assist our efforts to raise awareness and participation in the game.”

The Sunwolves look much improved in 2018 despite starting the season with two losses, while the Stormers are second in the South African conference.