HSBC Asian 5 Nations 2013 to Kick Off in Sri Lanka

Travel News Asia Latest Travel News Podcasts Videos Friday, 29 March 2013

Marking its 45th anniversary in 2013, the Asian Rugby Football Union (ARFU) is set to kick off Asias premier regional 15s rugby competition, the 2013 HSBC Asian Five Nations (HSBC A5N).

This years HSBC A5N action will see 30 test matches held in nine countries across four months. The tournament will open in rugby-mad Colombo, Sri Lanka on 31 March 2013.

The top contenders include hosts Sri Lanka and the Kazakhstan XV, who will be intent on returning to the premier Top 5 division after being relegated for the first time ever in 2012. Sri Lanka, which had its first taste of Top 5 rugby in 2011, will be keen to return in time for a final crack at direct qualification for the Rugby World Cup 2015.

Rounding out the competition in Colombo is an up and coming young Chinese Taipei side who beat Singapore last season in Manila to stay in Division I. Newly promoted Thailand will bring a battle-tested side that won Division II last season in a nail-biting finale versus hosts Malaysia and then survived a tense RWC 2015 qualification play-off with Division III champions India to book its place in Sri Lanka. Division I will be played on a round-robin basis with six matches across three match days, Sunday, 31 March, Wednesday, 3 April and Saturday, 6 April.

In the elite Top 5 competition, perennial champions Japan will pin its title defense on their young guns with coach Eddie Jones using this seasons competition to blood more players from the Japan development squad with the Brave Blossoms facing a hectic international schedule in 2013.

We need to further develop our squad so I anticipate at least a 20 percent change in personnel from last season, said Jones. A couple of our senior players are also playing in Super Rugby this season which will give the youngsters a wonderful chance to step up.

Japan will kick-off the Top Five by hosting the promoted Philippines Volcanoes in Fukuoka on 20 April. On successive weeks, they travel away to Hong Kong and host last years runners-up South Korea in Tokyo before wrapping up Asias premier competition by taking on the United Arab Emirates in Dubai.

While the rest of the opposition will be keen to ensure that they remain in the Top Five so that they will be playing next season for Asias solitary direct-entry berth for the Rugby World Cup in England in 2015, it is a different story for Japan who is looking to strengthen the depth of their national pool. With this goal in mind, the Japan Rugby Football Union (JRFU) has adopted a two-pronged approach increasing the number of international games the national squad will play while at the same time embedding its best players in Super Rugby.

HSBC A5N squad veteran, hooker Shota Horie has joined the Melbourne Rebels becoming the first Japanese player to play Super Rugby in the competitions 17-year history. Also accompanying him into the cauldron of fire is sparkplug Highlanders scrumhalf Fumiaka Tanaka. Jones also said flanker Michael Leitch was another player tagged to play Super Rugby.

With an eye on breaking into the worlds top eight rugby nations by 2019, when the Rugby World Cup is played in Japan, the Brave Blossoms will increase their commitments against other second tier nations by figuring in the Pacific Nations Cup - which has been expanded to include the USA and Canada this year - as well as playing tests against Wales. But the first target for Japan is to continue to extend their dominance in the region by winning the HSBC A5N for a fifth consecutive year, and Jones is not taking anything lightly.

We know Hong Kong will be well coached and we know the Philippines will also be hard to beat as a number of their players figure in the top league in Australia and Japan, Jones said, but our target is to win the championship by playing the Japan way good attacking rugby.

Hong Kong, with its limited base of players, will have to balance their ambitions of trying to become a core team on the HSBC Sevens World Series in 2014 with their aim of remaining in the Top Five next season so that they can have a crack at qualifying for the 2015 World Cup (15s).

HKRFU Head of Performance and Coaching and National Coach - Dai Rees  

Dai Rees. Click to Enlarge (more pics)


We will have to take a decision closer to the date as to what we do. But it will be a fine balancing act, said Dai Rees, the Hong Kong Rugby Football Unions head of performance.

The problem for Hong Kong is that by virtue of being the reigning HSBC Asian Sevens Series champions, giving them the number one mantle in Asia; they have won an automatic berth for the London Sevens in May, which will be the qualifying tournament to unearth three core teams for the 2014 HSBC Sevens World Series. But a week before London, Hong Kong is due to travel to Manila to take on the Philippines in what could well be a must-win game to stay in the Top Five.

We need to win two games to make certain of our standing in this competition next season, Rees said.

Last season, Hong Kong lost to Japan and South Korea, and as such they will know the importance of defeating the Philippines and UAE, the other two teams in the Top Five.

After languishing for one season in Division One, South Korea came back with a bang last year as they finished second behind the Japan juggernaut. A tense 21-19 win over Hong Kong away was possibly their best and most satisfying result and the Koreans will be keen to cement their position as Asias number two side.

Promoted HSBC A5N Division One winners in 2012, the Philippines have been the biggest success story in Asian rugby in recent years. Not only have they excelled in the traditional version of the game, but they also made waves at sevens, joining Japan and Hong Kong as Asias representatives at the World Cup Sevens in Moscow in June.

With a clutch of players involved in top grade rugby in Australia or playing in Japans professional league, they could be dangerous if everything clicks and will target their game against the United Arab Emirates at the Rizal Memorial Stadium in Manila on May 18 as their must-win encounter.

The UAE have done well to stay in the top echelon and will be up against it as they try to stay on top for next years World Cup qualifying campaign. Gaining IRB membership and UAE sports federation status in the last year will have helped solidify the UAEs footing as it ramps up to preserve its Top 5 spot for another season.

Apart from the elite Top 5 and Division I competitions, this years HSBC A5N again encompasses the entire ARFU family with four divisions below the elite level. Each division will offer promotion and relegation in 2013.

After a strong response to last years HSBC A5N festival of rugby in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, the Division II and Division III competitions will again be held in Kuala Lumpur at the Petaling Jaya Stadium in June. Eight teams will be taking part as Singapore will attempt to improve on its lowest ever HSBC A5N position (Division II) after being demoted from Division I last season. Singapore will be joined in Division II by last years Division III champions India, regional rivals Malaysia and Iran.

After losing both of its matches last year to Malaysia and Iran in Division II, China drop down to head Division III alongside Guam, Indonesia and Qatar, who earned promotion in 2012 after winning the Division IV tournament for two consecutive years (2011 and 2012).

Pakistan will be re-building after reaching its nadir, being demoted from last years Division III competition to this years Division IV tournament in Dubai. Pakistan will face newly promoted Laos (thrice winners of the Division V competition) in the first semi final of Division IV while second seeds Lebanon will face off against Uzbekistan.

The Division IV competition will be held in the build-up to the UAE v Japan Top 5 match on May 10 at The 7evens Stadium in Dubai. Division V sees a two-match test series between Brunei and hosts Cambodia in July.

Outside of the test matches, development of the game across every level will again be prioritised with the return of the highly successful HSBC ARFU Coaching Tour in 2013. After reaching nearly 12,000 (11,800) youth in 2012, ARFU is hoping to increase the numbers of youth cycled through the programme to 20,000 in 2013. Participants in the coaching programme come from a wide variety of schools, youth-focused charities and social organisations with a focus on engaging first-time participants in rugby.

The 2013 HSBC ARFU Coaching Tour is already off to an encouraging start with over 6,000 youth registered for clinics around the Division I competition in Sri Lanka.

See also: Pictures from the Cathay Pacific / HSBC Hong Kong Sevens 2013.

A5N, Rugby, Sri Lanka, Colombo

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