HSBC Asian 5 Nations Marks 5 years of Top 5 Rugby in 2012
New formats, teams and international coaches herald continued growth
[Hong Kong, March 12, 2012]: HSBC and the Asian Rugby Football Union (ARFU) today announced the competition schedule for the HSBC Asian 5 Nations 2012 (HSBC A5N). This year marks the fifth year of the HSBC A5N, Asia’s premier international rugby competition, and the tournament is poised to chart new growth in the Game across the region from the elite level to the grassroots in 2012.
The 2012 HSBC A5N features some exciting milestones including several new and high-profile international coaches, an increasingly tight competition at the sharp edge of Asian rugby, an expanded competitive format for Division 1 and the debut competition for ARFU’s newest associate member union, Afghanistan.
In 2012, 34 matches will be held across the Top 5 and five Divisional tournaments involving 25 ARFU member unions in 8 nations. To date, the HSBC A5N has hosted 114 matches in 17 countries around Asia, 21 of which have been broadcast to more than 30 countries around the world.
Giles Morgan, Group Head of Sponsorship and Events for HSBC said, ‘The HSBC Asian 5 Nations is an important part of HSBC’s long term commitment to helping grow and develop Rugby across the region. The tournament, which we have been the sole title sponsor of since its inauguration in 2008, plays a vital role in the development of Asian teams, including Hong Kong, and we remain committed to supporting the growth of the sport across all levels. We wish the best of luck to all the teams taking part this year.’
ARFU President, Mr Adisek Hemyoo of Thailand said, “With the strong support of HSBC, the last five years has seen a tremendous growth in the interest and participation in Asian rugby. The tournament has been able to raise the profile of Asian rugby around the region and the world, with a special focus on engaging new audiences, particularly at youth level. Asian rugby fans are once again eagerly anticipating this year’s HSBC A5N as we begin the countdown to Rugby World Cup 2015 qualification.”
Last year’s Top 5 was amongst the most evenly contested in the tournament’s history with the relegation battle coming down to the final weekend as Kazakhstan maintained its place by beating Sri Lanka at home. Sri Lanka will be replaced by Division I champions Korea, after Korea’s shock relegation in 2010.
Hong Kong, HSBC A5N Top 5 runners-up last year, will be trying to steal a step on perennial champions Japan under new head coach Eddie Jones. Jones, who is of Japanese ancestry, has taken over from former All Black John Kirwan who stepped down at the end of last year’s Rugby World Cup. With an eye on new beginnings, Jones, a former Australia Wallaby coach, may be hoping to experiment with his large pool of local talent as Japan go in hunt of a fifth consecutive A5N crown.
Jones who coached the ACT Brumbies to their first Super 12 title in 2001, was named Japan coach in December, and it is believed that in his first year he may look at giving youth a run and the opportunity to stake a long-term claim with an eye on the 2019 Rugby World Cup, which will be the first ever Rugby World Cup hosted in Asia by Japan. If Jones pursues a youth movement in 2012, it will offer the other Top 5 nations their best chance to step out of the shadow of the leading rugby nation in Asia.
One team particularly focused on gaining Asia’s top slot is the HSBC-sponsored Hong Kong National Team. Hong Kong coach Dai Rees has made it clear that winning at 15s is what matters most to him. Hong Kong came close last season against a full-strength Japanese side, before going down 45-22. Hong Kong’s triumph in the inaugural Emirates Airlines Cup of Nations last December in Dubai, defeating Brazil, Kenya and the United Arab Emirates, has given Rees and his men a further boost.
For all of the teams in this year’s Top 5, competition comes at a potential cost – the risk of relegation to Division I in 2013 and a setback on the road to Rugby World Cup 2015. The innovative HSBC A5N format is marked by its promotion and relegation format.
Kazakhstan is one of the teams intent on improving its performance this season. Last year they only managed to retain their Top 5 position thanks to a 34-18 victory over Sri Lanka in their final game at home. The Nomads struggled as the coaching staff tried to ease in a new generation of players, and will be hoping that the 2011 campaign will have toughened these greenshoots.
The newly formed UAE Rugby Association’s debut in the Top 5 last year saw them retain their Top 5 status and finish third overall in the standings. With a new coach in ex-Wallaby Duncan Hall, the UAE will be out to impress once again. After a disappointing run in the Cup of Nations, the UAE will target their home match against Kazakhstan on May 11 as key to their chances of remaining in the top flight in 2013.
South Korea has for long been the second best team in Asia after Japan. But in recent times they have lost this standing, and last season had to settle for playing in Division 1 after slipping to their lowest ranking in Asia in decades. With their rich pedigree, it was inevitable that Korea’s stay in this grouping would be short-lived and so it proved as Korea defeated the Philippines and Singapore to emerge as 2011 Division 1 champions and regained their customary Top Five spot.
Mr Jarrad Gallagher, Regional General Manager for Asia of the IRB commented on the tournament’s development at every level saying, “Over the years we have seen the matches become more and more competitive, not only have several teams reduced the margins against Japan, but the gaps are closing at every level as a result of the intensity of the HSBC A5N. This can only be a boost for rugby in the region.”
While all eyes will be on the Top 5, it will be Division 1 that kicks-off the action in 2012. The Philippines, one of the up and coming teams in Asian rugby, will host the tournament from April 15-21 in Manila. For the first time, the four teams – Sri Lanka, Chinese Taipei, Singapore and the Philippines – will play a round-robin competition. This will give them an extra match with the objective of further preparing teams for promotion to the Top 5.
Philippines rugby is on a high after winning promotion last season and making its debut in the Cathay Pacific/HSBC Hong Kong Sevens this month. But watch out for Sri Lanka, led by former England international Phil Greening on a two-year coaching contract. They will be keen to win promotion back to the Top 5 after performing admirably last season.
The stakes are equally high for teams in Division 2 and Division 3 as it will be the region’s first step in qualifying for the 2015 Rugby World Cup. Malaysia, Thailand, Iran and the newly promoted China XV will figure in Division 2. Division 3 comprises India, Guam, Indonesia and Pakistan. Both tournaments will be run concurrently in a festival of rugby to be held in Kuala Lumpur. The winners of each of these competitions will figure in a one-match play-off later in the year to decide who advances to Division 1, thus keeping their Rugby World Cup 2015 dream alive.
Division 4 will be held in Dubai as a build-up to the inaugural match of the 2012 Top 5 competition between Hong Kong and the UAE on April 27. Qatar, Jordan, Lebanon and Uzbekistan will figure in the tournament as the UAE continues its role as the elder brother for rugby in the region.
All eyes, however, will be on the newest member of ARFU – Afghanistan – who will play a series of exhibition sevens games against the UAE’s fully Emirati development side, UAE Shaheen, in their first ARFU-sanctioned competition.
The 2012 Asian Five Nations will end with the Division 5 tournament in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, which returns to a triangular format in 2012, featuring Laos, Cambodia and Brunei at the tail end of June.
Off the pitch, the popular HSBC ARFU Coaching Tour will continue in 2012. The Tour sees HSBC Penguins and ARFU Coaches engage youth, both those currently involved in playing the game and those who have never touched a rugby ball before, with a focus on introducing the positive benefits of rugby to the region’s youth. Over the past two years, HSBC A5N coaching activities have introduced the game to over 6,000 youth in more than 15 countries.
The United Nations estimates that the majority of the world’s youth (nearly 85%) live in developing regions with approximately 60% of these youth (defined as age 15 to 24) living in Asia. The HSBC ARFU Coaching Tour will provide an important resource in developing a fan base for Rugby World Cup 2019 and grooming future generations of elite talent in the world’s most populous region.
For more information on the HSBC Asian 5 Nations please visit www.asian5nations.com.
About HSBC and Rugby
HSBC is a long-term investor in Rugby in Asia and around the world. As well as being the title sponsor of the Sevens World Series, Asian 5 Nations and Asian Sevens Series, the bank is co-title sponsor of the Hong Kong Sevens from 2012. HSBC is the Principal Partner of all the Hong Kong rugby teams, and the British & Irish Lions, who will play in Hong Kong in 2013 en route to Australia. The bank is also the title sponsor of the Waratahs Super 15 team in Australia, the Penguin International Coaching Academy and the Cobra 10s tournament in Malaysia.
About the Asian Rugby Football Union
Founded in 1968 with eight founding members, ARFU today boasts 28 Member and Associate Member Unions around Asia. ARFU is an Its flagship properties include the HSBC Asian Five Nations and the HSBC Asian Sevens Series. ARFU also provides rugby opportunities for women and youth around the region. For more information on the Asian Rugby Football Union, please visit www.arfu.com.
Released on behalf of ARFU by Elite Step Asia Limited. For information on ARFU and the HSBC A5N and HSBC Asian Sevens, contact Sean Moore at firstname.lastname@example.org or on +852 9095 8889; Chinese language enquiries to Andy Yeung at email@example.com.
The history of Asian rugby dates back nearly as long as that in England, where the world’s first rugby football union, the RFU, was established in 1871. In 1879, the first Asian union was founded in the Ceylon, now Sri Lanka, RFU. Rugby was also being played in Hong Kong and Japan well before the turn of the last century. The game maintained its appeal through the post-colonial era and on 15 December, 1968, ARFU was founded with eight original members: Sri Lanka, Chinese Taipei, Hong Kong, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand.
The first Asian Rugby Football Tournament (ARFT) was held in 1969 in Tokyo. It has been played (initially annually and then bi-annually) ever since. The HSBC Asian Five Nations (HSBC A5N) Top 5 competition takes the place of the ARFT. The original ARFT trophy, the Edo Shield, is now contested by teams in HSBC A5N Division I.
Asia has been represented at every Rugby World Cup since 1987 with Japan the only Asian team to have qualified for the competition. In 2009, Japan became the first Asian nation to be awarded the right to host the Rugby World Cup (in 2019).
The HSBC Asian Sevens Series, launched in 2011, marks the first time that an annual ranking competition for Sevens has been mounted by ARFU. In 2011, four events were held as part of the HSBC Asian Sevens Series. The HSBC Asian Sevens Series is further increasing the profile of the game and playing an invaluable role in preparing the continent’s teams for HSBC Sevens World Series participation and eventual qualification for the Olympic Games starting in 2016.
ARFU spans a vast territory from Kazakhstan in the north to Indonesia in the south and Lebanon in the west to Guam in the east. Of ARFU’s 28 member unions, 14 are full members of the International Rugby Board: China, Chinese Taipei, Guam, Hong Kong, India, Japan, Kazakhstan, Korea, Malaysia, Pakistan, Philippines, Singapore, Sri Lanka and Thailand. There are a further six associate IRB members in Asia: Cambodia, Kyrgyzstan, Iran, Laos, Mongolia and Uzbekistan. Afghanistan is the newest ARFU associate member union, joining in 2011, following Lebanon and UAE’s admission in December 2009.