First stop Hong Kong, next the world – Saracens are ready to go global as they seek to raise their profile beyond English club rugby’s traditional borders.
The 2011 Premiership champions are in Hong Kong to play in Saturday’s Chartis Cup charity match against a star-studded BGC APBs invitational team.
And already they are looking at other overseas fixtures. “We have the potential to grow,” says Saracens chief executive Edward Griffiths, (pictured below) who has travelled with the team.
“About three years ago we decided that we wanted to be more than a club with a quirky name playing in the backwaters of North London, so we are spreading our wings a little bit.
“We were in Abu Dhabi in February where we did some coaching clinics, now we’re playing in Hong Kong, and we’re pretty confident we’ll be playing in Cape Town next January. We also have plans to play in Brussels and New York.
“Rugby is a growing game and there is no reason why clubs cannot develop global profiles in the way that national teams like the All Blacks and Springboks have.”
For the Chartis Cup, former England skipper Steve Borthwick is leading a powerful Saracens team that includes 2007 World Cup-winning Springboks captain John Smit and England internationals Richard Wigglesworth and Hugh Vyvyan.
The BGC APBs line-up includes Mils Muliaina (video below) – 100 caps for New Zealand and a World Cup winner last year – plus three other All Blacks in Jerry Collins, Rico Gear and Troy Flavell. Their other big names include 100-cap Wales flanker Martyn Williams, England No.8 Nick Easter, Samoa centre Seilala Mapusua and former Japan captain Takuro Miuchi.
The Chartis Cup
The Chartis Cup will kick off at 6:00pm on Saturday, 9 June at Hong Kong Stadium. The venue is synonymous with the famous Hong Kong Sevens and Griffiths believes the growth of sevens represents both an opportunity and challenge.
“The Hong Kong Sevens is a massive tournament that has a high profile within the sport, so our players are excited to be playing in a stadium which they have previously only seen on TV,” he says.
“Obviously, the World Cup going to Japan in 2019 draws a lot of rugby interest towards Asia and more and more leading players are going to play in Japan, so it is clearly helping the profile of the game in this part of the world.
“If you look at where rugby is growing, the areas are Asia, Eastern Europe, South America and, to a certain extent, North America. But the whole thing is going to change with sevens becoming an Olympic sport in 2016 in Rio de Janeiro.
“Rugby will be included in the national sports curriculum of countries like China and India and the game will change beyond recognition. In 10 years time there will be a lot of people around the world who think rugby is a sevens game and are not aware that 15 players can be in a team.
“That is rugby’s challenge, traditional rugby has to adapt to that demand and that’s what we have to do.”
The Chartis Cup will be the centrepiece of a day-long rugby festival at Hong Kong Stadium and nearby So Kon Po Recreation Ground that will feature minis and veterans tournaments plus a family-friendly Rugby Village for which admission is free.
Click here to view over 100 images from the Saracens/APBs visit to Hong Kong
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