While the Chinese national rugby team is struggling to get back into the top flight in Asia, Hong Kong has fast emerged as one of the region's most consistent title contenders.|
The Chinese, two-time Bowl winners of the Cathay Pacific/HSBC Hong Kong Sevens, will miss this year's event. Hong Kong, boasting HSBC Asian Sevens Series championship titles in Shanghai and Mumbai in 2012, will take part in the Hong Kong Sevens as one of the 16 seeded teams in March, and will also participate in the London stop of the HSBC Sevens World Series in May and then the Rugby World Cup Sevens in Moscow.
"The Hong Kong team could hardly compete with us three years ago, whether physically or level of play," said Zhang Zhiqiang, coach of the Chinese men's rugby team.
"But with the support of the government of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region and the sponsorship of HSBC, the Hong Kong team has improved rapidly over the past two to three years."
To make the game better known in Hong Kong, local rugby players and celebrities promote the sport and teach basic skills in schools and communities.
"The participation of the (HK) stars helps increase knowledge of the sport," Zhang said.
To warm up for the Cathay Pacific/HSBC Hong Kong Sevens, the local government has started passing a jersey of the Hong Kong team, which is half the size of a rugby field, through schools and communities in Hong Kong. The home team's jerseys will also sold to fans at a discount price during the tournament in order to attract greater local support.
Apart from that, through the sponsorship of HSBC, the Hong Kong team gets many opportunities to play and train abroad and also invite top international teams to play in Hong Kong, which is a key to the team's progress, Zhang said.