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September 10, 2009

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Rugby Asia tourney makes first stop in Shanghai this weekend

TEAMS from nine Asian countries will compete in Shanghai's first major international rugby sevens tournament this weekend. Rugby boosters say the exciting seven-a-side game is gaining popularity in China. Sam Riley tackles the tale. Some of Asia's best rugby sevens players will showcase their skills over a two-day tournament in Shanghai over the weekend.

The rugby sevens tournament is the first stop on the International Rugby Board's Asia Rugby Sevens series that also plays tournaments across Asia, including in Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and India.

National teams from leading rugby playing nations in Asia will compete in Shanghai and the tournament includes a veterans and women's competition as well a 16-team amateur club competition comprising some of the best clubs in Asia.

The event takes place at the Shanghai Rugby Football Club at Waigaoqiao. Nine countries will compete - China, Singapore, Japan, India, South Korea, Kazakhstan, Malaysia, Thailand and Sri Lanka.

In Asia the powerhouses of both the 15-man and seven-man game are Japan but they can expect stiff competition from both China and South Korea.

Seven-a-side rugby has become popular in Asia, predominately through the annual Hong Kong sevens rugby tournament every year.

Mark Thomas, head of sports marketing consultancy S2m Group which is the tournament organizer, says the Shanghai sevens tournament was a major opportunity to develop rugby in China.

It is the first year Shanghai has staged a rugby tournament of this stature and Thomas says that after establishing the event they hope it could become part of the bigger IRB Sevens World Series.

The series features eight tournaments in seven countries.

"We want to build this event to be one of the great sevens events in the world, and we try to look at the Hong Kong territory and Dubai and add specific characteristics to make this event something special for Shanghai," he says.

Sevens rugby is a variant of a normal 15-a-side rugby union game. The game is also shortened from the full 80 minutes to a 14-minute game consisting of two seven-minute halves.

While still played on a full-size field, fewer players makes for exciting running rugby with lots of points scored to keep the crowd entertained.

Sevens rugby has moved a step closer to inclusion in the 2016 Summer Olympics after a recent vote of the International Olympic Committee's executive board approved the sport's addition.

It must be ratified at the 121st meeting of the IOC in Copenhagen in early October.

Thomas says that while rugby has enjoyed increasing popularity in China, its inclusion as an Olympic sport would fast-track its development in China.

"If this IOC decision is ratified, it isn't just the national team in China that will benefit, but rugby will be included into the national sports structure," he says.

"So it will be included into the China National Games and all those provinces and major cities will start to get their own rugby teams. You will have quality rugby teams and development that will feed into the national side," says Thomas.

Rugby in China can be traced back to the 1990s when the China Agricultural University in Beijing established China's first team.

This sparked the establishment of teams in universities and colleges across the country.

The Chinese Rugby Association was established in 1996 and a year later China became the 96th member country of the IRB.

Thomas has witnessed the growth of rugby firsthand in China as one of the founding members of the Shanghai Hairy Crabs Rugby Club.

He says the likely inclusion of rugby sevens into the Olympics would likely see China begin to climb world rankings quickly to challenge some of the established playing nations.

"Hopefully, by 2016 we will see China have a very competitive side both in men and women," he says.

"They are not that far behind in rugby sevens and when they have a little bit more structural development and a little bit more money behind the game, you will see improvement very quickly. I can see China doing quite well."

The festivities will kick off with a Long Lunch speaking event tomorrow, featuring former All Black star winger John Kirwin.

The tournament will be held at the Shanghai Rugby Football Club at Waigaoqiao and gates open at 8am. There will be family entertainment and live music, including covers band Studio 188.

Tickets are 50 yuan (US$7.3) per person on Saturday and 70 yuan on Sunday.

A two-day package is 100 yuan per person with children under 1.4 meters getting in free.

Tickets are available from Ticketmaster at or by calling 400-707-9999.

For more information, visit


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