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

China Daily (USA) - - ACROSS AMERICA - Wil­liam Hen­nelly Con­tact the writer at williamhen­nelly@chi­nadai­

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 rug­by­play­ing 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 sev­en­minute 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, which is run­ning the California event, 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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