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New Formats, Teams and International Coaches for HSBC Asian 5 Nations 2012

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HSBC and the Asian Rugby Football Union (ARFU) have confirmed the competition schedule for the HSBC Asian 5 Nations 2012 (HSBC A5N).

 This year marks the fifth year of the HSBC A5N, Asias 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 ARFUs 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.

Last years Top 5 was amongst the most evenly contested in the tournaments 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 Koreas 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 years 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 Asias 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 Kongs 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 years 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 Associations 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 been the second best team in Asia after Japan for a long time. 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 Koreas 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 tournaments 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 15-21 April 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 regions 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 27 April 2012. 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 UAEs 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 regions 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 worlds 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 worlds most populous region.

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