Try, try and try again

Updated: 2016-01-22 08:12

By Sun Xiaochen(China Daily)

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Rugby was introduced to China by Cao Xihuang, a professor at CAU, who had seen the game while on a visit to Japan. He decided to bring the game to China with the help of a Japanese colleague. The country's first rugby team was formed with 32 specially selected CAU students in December 1990.

Zhang, who now works as a physical education teacher and also coaches the CAU varsity team, said grabbing the attention of the younger generation will be the key to success: "The sport should return to where it started in China. There is no shortcut to becoming a world power without a solid youth foundation."

Zhang, who has overseas experience after playing for Sunny bank Rugby Football Club in Queensland, Australia, in the early years of the century, is fully aware of the importance of capturing the imaginations of children.

In July, along with his wife Jin Mengwei, the 41-year-old set up a youth camp, based at CAU, to offer students from nearby primary schools training in sevens rugby. Now, 24 students have signed up for the program, which sees them split into two classes that practice for 90 minutes a week under the guidance of the CAU's coaching crew.

Jin said some parents were so concerned that they even demanded the coaches shoot footage of full sessions to prove that rugby training wouldn't pose a physical risk to their children.

"The biggest challenge is the strong perception among parents and school principals generally that rugby is a dangerous game, even at the junior level, which features the safer touch version and uses protective gear," she added.

Youth participation

The promotion of youth rugby took off earlier in China's eastern coastal cities, such as Shanghai and Qingdao, Shandong province, where the influence of foreign cultures runs deeper, than in Beijing.

The Sharks Rugby Football Club in Qingdao has hired Daniel Wards, a youth rugby trainer from New Zealand, the game's global superpower, to coach juniors from 10 local schools where touch rugby has been introduced.

"They are really enthusiastic about the sport. For me, it's pretty easy to coach them because they want to learn new things all the time," said Wards, who visits different schools every day to coach students.

"This game (touch rugby) is great because everyone can play, including girls. It's quite simple (in terms of the rules) and without much physical challenge, so it's a great way to introduce rugby to the country."

Wang Xiaokun, director of the Qingdao Rugby Football Association, said the association has been organizing regional school tournaments since 2010, and now runs a 10-team amateur league.