Reporter Journal / William Hennelly

China ready to get into a scrum with the big boys of rugby

By William Hennelly (China Daily USA) Updated: 2017-10-12 10:33

China ready to get into a scrum with the big boys of rugby

China is quite familiar with Silicon Valley in the business sense.

But the nature of a Chinese delegation's trip to California Nov 4-5 will be a sporting one, as China competes in the Silicon Valley Sevens, an international rugby tournament.

Twelve of the world's best rugby-playing nations will appear at Avaya Stadium in San Jose, California, in what is seen as a key warm-up for the Rugby World Cup Sevens in San Francisco in July 2018.

In rugby sevens, teams are made up of seven players playing seven-minute halves, instead of the more traditional 15 players playing 40-minute halves.

In addition to China and the host nation United States, the San Jose field includes Australia, Canada, Chile, England, Fiji (defending 2016 Olympic champion), Ireland, Japan, New Zealand (defending World 7's champion), Samoa and Tonga.

Fifteen of the 24 bids to the 2018 Rugby World Cup Sevens are set. But nine are up for grabs. Eight of the 12 teams headed to San Jose have booked spots, but China, Chile, Japan and Tonga will need to build some momentum ahead of qualification.

China will benefit from experiencing tier one competition against fellow Pacific nations Fiji, Australia and Japan.

With only two spots available for Asian nations in the World Cup Sevens, and Japan the favorite for one spot, China will need to make a good showing in San Jose. China finished fifth in Asia's Olympics qualification.

"This is (mainland) China's first journey into the international sevens," David Niu, president of Super 7's Rugby, told China Daily. Niu has played rugby internationally at various levels and previously served as president of the China Arena Football League (CAFL).

The Hong Kong Sevens tournament, which began in 1976, has played a major role in the sport's growth in Southeast Asia. The British presence in Hong Kong also helped to popularize the sport, which is also enormously popular in Australia, Fiji and New Zealand.

"The Hong Kong Sevens is a big annual event that really attracted interest" in seven-man rugby, Niu said.

The Silicon Valley Sevens' website says that "the sleeping giant of China is awakening. A monumental investment has seen the sport grow tremendously on the mainland in recent years."

When the first rugby team in China started up at Beijing Agricultural University in 1990, the team had to split into two groups to play, because there were not enough players from outside to form an opposing side. There are now about 20 teams, mainly in universities, colleges and middle schools.

Rugby is an official sport of the People's Liberation Army, and the PLA Sports Institute enters clubs in the Hong Kong leagues.

In October 2016, World Rugby announced that Alisports, a division of e-commerce giant Alibaba, would contribute $100 million to develop the sport in China over the next decade. The Chinese government supports the move and has stressed that the organizations be even more ambitious.

The Silicon Valley event also will have a fun side, as it will feature an international beer wine and food festival, international cuisine, interactive sports, music and entertainment and family activities. "The world's largest outdoor bar" on the stadium's patio deck also will be open.

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