x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

UAE rugby chiefs should follow Hong Kong's lead

Rugby bosses in the UAE have been urged to follow the success of the Bledisloe Cup match in Hong Kong by staging major Test matches in the future.

Rugby bosses in the UAE have been urged to follow the success of yesterday's Bledisloe Cup match in Hong Kong by staging major Test matches in the future. The All Blacks beat Australia 19-14 in front of a crowd of 40,000 at the Hong Kong Stadium in the first meeting of the sides at a neutral venue outside of World Cups.

Gavin Hastings, the HSBC rugby ambassador and former Scotland captain and British Lions player, suggests the door is now open for more Test matches to be staged by Asia's developing unions, such as the Arabian Gulf. Hastings said: "After the success of this weekend, the Asian rugby nations should put their hand up and say to the IRB [International Rugby Board] or the major unions that they are willing and able to host such international occasions. It isn't just Hong Kong that can do this."

It seems only a matter of time before the UAE, which is already home to one of the world's best attended sevens tournaments, hosts a high-profile, 15-a-side international. South Africa, the reigning world champions, had planned to stage a Test match against Ireland in Dubai this weekend, to kick-off their schedule of autumn internationals. The Mandela Challenge match had provisionally been due to take place yesterday, to run at the same time as the Bledisloe Cup meeting.

However, with the new rugby stadium in the emirate - The Sevens - still under construction and a lack of any other suitable grounds, the fixture was shelved. It is now hoped a window to stage the rearranged match can be found immediately after the IRB Sevens World Cup is staged in Dubai next March. Australia and New Zealand are discussing the possibility of hosting a Test in Tokyo within two years.

Japan is likely to become the first Asian nation to stage a World Cup, and it has even been mooted as hosting a Super 14 franchise in the future. "This match [the Bledisloe Cup] is part of a longer-term strategy, and one we hope the IRB share with us, that rugby to be truly global will need to gain some real following in Asia, north America and eastern Europe," said New Zealand's chief executive Steve Tew.

Hong Kong and the UAE host the two most popular sevens events on the IRB World Series calendar at present. John Kirwan, the Japan coach and former All Black, reckons hosting 15-a-side Test matches is the next logical step. Kirwan said: "I believe the future is Asia. "I think the game is saturated in the UK and in the southern hemisphere. "Sevens is hugely important in growing the sport. You just need to look at the nations playing sevens compared to 15s and see how nations are improving.

"Sevens must be an Olympic sport and then developing rugby nations will get funding and infrastructure and everything will start to fall into place. "Once sevens has increased the awareness and interest in the sport then we can use 15s to further sell it." pradley@thenational.ae