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John Kirwan, part of the New Zealand team that won the first ever Rugby World Cup in 1987, believes Asian rugby is growing at such a rate that he foresees two Asian nations to be good enough to play in the 2019 World Cup.

When asked about the current state of Asian rugby, Kirwan said, “Japan is edging closer to the top tier of global rugby and as host of the 2019 World Cup, there will be expectations of a good performance by the local team. Not far behind is Hong Kong, which has been investing in high performance rugby for the past five years and we are starting to see results. Then you have the likes of the Philippines and Malaysia that have been winning a lot of matches in recent years. We have also seen a growing interest of the sport in India, and who knows, a good team can come out of there soon.”

“If the Asian nations carry on training hard, with the right coaches and programme, and push each other like they have in the past few seasons, I won’t be surprised if we see Japan and Hong Kong battling it out for rugby glory with the world’s best by the end of the decade”, he added.

With rugby becoming increasingly accessible across the region, the sport is growing in stature, strength and popularity and Kirwan was clearly impressed with what he saw during the year-long HSBC ARFU Rugby Coaching Tour. With 16 stops across 11 countries in the region, Kirwan spearheaded coaching clinics that engaged over 3,000 kids, and drew inspiration from the youngsters’ enthusiasm and drive. He said, “We worked with a lot of kids this year, many of whom had never even heard of rugby before. It was incredibly inspirational for me to see their commitment and eagerness to learn. The orphanage in Thailand really impressed me and I realised how much we can use our game to give hope to these kids. Teamwork, as well as the sportsmanship spirit that they learned through the coaching clinics would help them not only in sport, but with the challenges they will face as they go through life.”

Johnny Zhang, the highest point scorer of all time at the Hong Kong Sevens and the most successful Chinese rugby player in the history of the game, believes the sport will grow rapidly in Asia and we will see teams from the region rise up the world rankings. He is excited to see that rugby is finally taking off in China, “Rugby was a niche sport in China a few years ago when there were less than one thousand people playing it. But ever since rugby was included in the National Games and the 2016 Olympics, the general public became more interested in it and participation grew as a result. This year, we had the first China Sevens Championships in Kunshan, Jiangsu, as well as another Sevens tournament in Hefei, Anhui. New teams are forming across provinces with the backing of the government and this is all good news for rugby in my country.” He added, “In the no-so-distant past, only international school kids or foreigners in China played rugby while the local Chinese knew little about it, or they would mistake rugby for American football. Now, local kids are excited and proud of this sport, and are eager to learn and practice. You can see the passion and excitement in their eyes.”

Zhang, who led the Shanghai stop of the HSBC ARFU Rugby Coaching Tour in September, has high hopes for its national team and considers the 2016 Olympics as a motivator for the sport to grow domestically, “If the China team can get into the Olympics, it will create even more awareness amongst the public. There are over four years till the Rio Games and I hope the players in the provincial teams can improve quickly enough to become key players representing our nation. Japan, Hong Kong and Korea are the top teams in Asia and with probably just two slots available, we must work really hard to prove we deserve a place.”

The HSBC ARFU Rugby Coaching Tour Calendar 2011

March 23 Hong Kong

April 21-23 Colombo, Sri Lanka

April 28-30 Hong Kong

May 5-7 Bangkok, Thailand

May 11-13 Dubai, UAE

May 19-22 Colombo, Sri Lanka

May 21 Hong Kong

May 22 Macau

May 31-June 3 Seoul, Korea

June 21-25 Jakarta, Indonesia

Jul 20-Aug 24 Hong Kong

Aug23-27 Shanghai, China

Sep21-23 Sabah, Malaysia

Oct31-Nov6 Singapore

Nov6-11 Malaysia

To watch a highlights video of the HSBC ARFU Rugby Coaching Tour so far, visit:

Or via youtube:

For further details on 2011 Coaching Tour, visit:

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