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China Daily Website

1,580 DAYS

Updated: 2012-04-08 07:58
By Dusty Lane ( China Daily)

1,580 DAYS

China's Rugby Sevens team finished 1-3 at the Hong Kong Sevens last month, but it could be much better in a couple years. The sport will become an Olympic event beginning in 2016. [Provided to China Daily]

That's how long China's Rugby Sevens has to become a contender at 2016 Olympics, Dusty Lane writes.

Everybody who knows anything about Rugby Sevens will tell you that China's going to be much better at the sport four years from now.

The real question - and there's a lot riding on it - is exactly how much better will it be?

With the sport set to become an Olympic event for the first time at the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro, China coach Zhang Zhiqiang (also known as Johnny Zhang) said there is a long way to go for his team to join the world's elite.

"It's maybe not long enough," Zhang said last month at the Cathay Pacific HSBC Hong Kong Sevens. "But we will try out best to narrow the gap with the other countries.

"The history of China's rugby is 300 years behind the international game. With enough efforts from all the people in charge, we want to narrow the gap as fast as we can."

The gap is indeed large. China won just one of its four matches in Hong Kong, a 29-26 victory over Uruguay.

Still, there's plenty of space for the team to improve, especially in a sport that might be tailor-made for Asian players.

Unlike traditional 15-a-side rugby, there's not much room in sevens for lumbering hulks.

That means China might get better quickly, said John Kirwan, a former New Zealand All-Black and former coach of the Japanese national team.

"The sevens is more of the fast agile athlete, that's why it will be very good for Asian players," Kirwan said. "Sevens is a hybrid of the game, of the 15s game. And so it's not a game for everyone. It's not a game for your 120 kg props. It's not a game for your tall slow guys. Sevens are your fast, agile athletes."

1,580 DAYS

A boy plays at the HSBC Sevens Village last month in Hong Kong. The village, located across the street from Hong Kong Stadium, was part of an effort to make the event more accessible to local fans. [Provided to China Daily]

Of course, to get better, you have to play more. But to play more, you have to win more. When the Hong Kong Sevens rolled around, China hadn't had a match in months because it's not part of the upper echelon that makes up sevens' regular circuit. To qualify, a team has to win its way in.

Australian rugby great George Gregan said his country wouldn't be the powerhouse it is without its bitter rivalry with New Zealand.

"With the right resources, with the right training and the right structures in place to have a really good program, (China) can have a chance to be competitive," Gregan said. "I think it comes down to exposure against some of the best players and the best teams in the world it's very, very important."

Zhang himself is an example of China's potential in sevens. He holds the record for scoring in Hong Kong, with 42 tries in the event.

He said the sport has yet to take hold because the goverment hasn't yet focused its attention and resources on it.

He said he expects an avalanche of support once the London Olympics wrap up in August and organizers turn their atttention to 2016.

"In China, sports is very related to government policy," Zhang said. "So how the sport develops really depends on the government's viewpoint."

Also working in China's favor: its size, and the fact sevens requires little financial investment from young players who want to pick up the game.

"I think China has improved immensely, but they're going to need to keep working hard," Kirwan said. "But it's something they'll be able to do - I've seen improvement in them.

"I think from the physical point of view it's a sport that they'll really enjoy. I think the bonus with China is they have such a variation of population that they can actually go and get the big (players) and have a real pool of talent that they can go to. And then it's just understanding and playing. You gotta play, and you gotta play against good competition."

So better competition, some attention from the goverment, and maybe a snowball effect starts.

"I think of the four (top rugby nations in Asia) the organziation and management is worst in China," Zhang said. "But that also means there is a lot of room for improvement."


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