Regional strategy for Asia's rise in rugby

Rugby might be enjoying a period of exponential growth in Asia, but there remains even more work to be done for the continent's players to break into elite ranks.

The inaugural Southeast Asia Sevens (SEA 7s) tournament this weekend is a good start. But such competitions are still lacking in untapped regions like China, West Asia and Central Asia.

When asked about the possibility of new tournaments in the region, World Rugby chairman Bernard Lapasset said: "We have regional activities well located in Europe and in the South (Australia and Africa). But at the moment, it's missing in Asia.

"We have to see what's the best process to organise a regional event. We have SEA 7s now, it's started and working well now.

"It's part of development. We should have the timing to do that, but it could be not be now."

The Frenchman, who will step down next month after eight years in office, has been credited with the sport's rise in Asia during his tenure.

He successfully lobbied for the Rugby World Cup to be hosted in Asia for the first time - in Japan in 2019. And rugby sevens has been reinstated as an Olympic event at Rio de Janeiro this year.

Asia Rugby president Koji Tokumasu reasoned that it is not feasible for every Asian nation to participate in a unified series.

"We have five regions in Asia, it's too big to travel from east to west, it costs too much money. That's why we encourage regional tournaments," he said.

"The reason why Japan beat South Africa at the last World Cup is because we have a regular domestic tournament.

"(For the region to progress) we need a mixture - elite tournaments and participation tournaments."

Alvin Chia

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 16, 2016, with the headline 'Regional strategy for Asia's rise in rugby'. Print Edition | Subscribe