Asia’s pedigree and propensity for laying on Multisport Games is well documented and there is no better example than the Asian Games, now in its 16th edition in Guangzhou, China.
The region’s men’s Rugby teams have already competed in three tournaments, in Bangkok (1998), Busan (2002) and Doha (2006), and this week’s action will act as a further catalyst for Rugby in the region.
There is no question that Rugby Sevens could take off in many Asian countries now that the shortened version of the sport is assured of a place at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio and the potential in certain countries is frightening. “The great path leading to the Olympics is starting to light up and I think having Sevens in a massive event like the Asian Games keeps bringing Rugby and Rugby Sevens to the forefront and strengthens local structures,” said IRB Regional General Manager for Asia, Jarrad Gallagher.
“For example here in China where we’re competing in a brand new stadium for 35,000 spectators, fully kitted out with five training pitches, posts and in the heart of the university town. That is already quite a legacy.
“I have been in Asia now for 10 years, and working with the IRB for eight years, and within the last 12 months we’ve seen more progress in terms of the political side of developing the sport than we had seen in the previous eight years - it’s been phenomenal.”
So who are the key contenders in the men’s competition in Guangzhou, and the sides best placed to trouble them?
Japan - Asia’s powerhouse, the defending Asian Games champions and the undisputed favourites to take another Gold in Guangzhou.
May not always field their best teams in the Asian Rugby Sevens Series events, but with the whole of Asia watching - including National Olympic Committee members - they will be out to impress.
But will their selection suffer from John Kirwan’s national 15-a-side team currently being in action?
Korea - Silver medallists in 2006 and arguably the team best set to cause Japan problems. The Koreans have had a successful season, currently ranked one in the Asian Rugby Sevens Series after victory at the Shanghai Sevens.
However, they lost 43-0 to Hong Kong at the most recent event in Borneo - a blip, a weakened team or maybe even part of their master plan?
Hong Kong - Winners of the most recent Asian Sevens Series event in Borneo, Dai Rees’ side beat Japan 31-28 in the final and arrive in Guangzhou full of confidence.
“This team has been together for over a year and it’s quite possibly the best squad we have ever had,” said Rees, whose side also trumped Korea en route to the Borneo win.
China - The other one of the top four teams who will kick off with genuine hopes of winning gold - on home soil.
With the possibility of improved exposure, funding and player numbers now that Sevens is an Olympic sport, no country has greater potential to revolutionise its effort that China.
With the likes of veteran Johnny Zhiang turning in assured performances, China have already caused the odd shock in recent Hong Kong Sevens events, notably beating Scotland two years ago. Asia’s most populous nation will now be demanding more of the same.
The Underdogs - Sri Lanka, India, Thailand, Malaysia and Mongolia may not start in China aiming to win gold, but they are all fast-improving on the international stage.
With both the multi-tier HSBC Asian 5 Nations and now the Asian Rugby Sevens Series giving these nations and others far greater opportunity to develop through regular competition, they could become genuine threats.
The likes of Sri Lanka have already competed on the grandest stage in the Hong Kong Sevens, while India should have benefited hugely from staging and competing in the recent Commonwealth Games Sevens event in Delhi.
“In the last 12 months we have created a few upsets and we also reached an all time high ranking,” said India captain Nasser Hussain. “Also exposure at the Delhi Commonwealth Games has helped us and we should be able to give tough competition to our counterparts.”
Men’s competition, Asian Games, 21-23 November, Guangzhou, China
Pool A: Japan, Hong Kong, Thailand, Malaysia, Mongolia and Pool B : Korea, China, Sri Lanka, India