ARFU kicks off new format Asia Rugby Championships

Elite men’s and women’s tiers focus on top three teams in 2015

16 April, 2015

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The Asian Rugby Football Union (ARFU) is set to kick off its premier men's and women's fifteen-a-side competitions under a new name and format, the Asia Rugby Championship (ARC) and Asia Women's Rugby Championship (AWRC).

In 2015, Asia's elite fifteen-a-side competitions will focus on the top three teams, reduced from five in last year's men's competition – the former Asian 5 Nations Top 5, and four in the women's competition (Asian Women's Four Nations).

This year's Asia Rugby Championship will feature defending champions Japan, runners-up Hong Kong and third-placed finishers South Korea contesting a full home-and-away series across seven weeks starting on Saturday 18 April when Korea host Japan in Incheon.

Philippines and Sri Lanka, the fourth- and fifth-placed finishers from last year's Asian 5 Nations Top 5 competition, are routed into Division I in 2015.

ARFU President Trevor Gregory commented on the new competition structure saying,

"We have re-structured our elite men's and women's competition to help create opportunities for the top teams to play more matches against opposition in World Rugby's high-performance bands."

Japan is the only Asian team in World Rugby's (formerly the IRB) high-performance band. Hong Kong and South Korea are in the next tier down – performance band, while the rest of Asia is in the development band.

"Our aim is to try and get more Asian countries into the performance, and ultimately high performance, bands. Countries in the performance band need to play at least 10 test matches a year and the new home-and-away Asia Rugby Championship is a first step towards that goal," said Gregory.

While there is no mandatory promotion match in the 2015 men's competition the winner of Division I can choose to challenge the bottom-placed team at the conclusion of the ARC.

If held, that match would take place in the home nation of the third-placed finisher in the ARC on 6 June. Starting in 2016, promotion and relegation will again be a regular feature of the competition, with a mandatory challenge match taking place each year to determine the format for the following season's competition.

The top-tier competition will be supported by a four-nation Division I tournament and five other competitive divisions, involving 21 additional ARFU member unions.

ARC action starts on Saturday (18 April) as South Korea host Japan at the Namdong Asiad Rugby Ground, venue of the Rugby Sevens competition for the 2014 Asian Games.

The Division I competition will be held at the mid-point of the ARC with matches on 6 and 9 May in Manila. Last year's Top 5 sides Philippines and Sri Lanka will face Singapore and Kazakhstan in a highly competitive grouping in the Philippines that for the first time ever features four former Top 5 sides. The tournament will be the first event held at the all-new 25,000-seat Philippines Arena outside Manila. Division II will take place the following week in Kuala Lumpur with Malaysia, Thailand, UAE and Chinese Taipei playing a full round-robin competition.

Three regional tournaments have been instituted at Division III level: East, Central and West competitions. Division III West has already kicked off with a three-team competition between Lebanon (on their debut hosting of an elite ARFU men's 15s competition), Iran and Jordan. Lebanon opened the competition with a 71-3 win over Jordan in game one and will play Iran in the first official test match between the two nations on 18 April. Iran and Jordan face off on 16 April.

Division III Central features India, Pakistan and Uzbekistan in Tashkent in May, while the East regional competition will feature Indonesia, China and Guam in Jakarta in June.

The Asia Women's Rugby Championship (AWRC) will feature the region's top three teams in 2015 with a round robin competition between defending champions Kazakhstan, runners-up Hong Kong and third-ranked Japan. Hong Kong will travel to Kazakhstan to open the competition in Almaty on 25 April.

Subsequent matches (Japan v Kazakhstan and Hong Kong v Japan) will be played as curtain-raisers for the men's ARC games in Fukuoka, Japan on 9 May and in Hong Kong on 23 May.

The AWRC will be supported by a four-team Division I competition to be held later in the year as ARFU continues to provide opportunities for its member unions to enhance their competitiveness ahead of qualification for the 2017 Women's Rugby World Cup next season.

In the ARC, South Korea will have one of its best chances in recent years to upset the region's rugby formbook when they host Japan on Saturday (18 Apr, kick-off 0300 GMT).

Japan enter the inaugural ARC with close on a third of their first-choice squad unavailable. But with the Rugby World Cup just five months away, Japan coach Eddie Jones would rather the players were absent now than later in the year.Leading the absentees are Michael Leitch and Fumiaki Tanaka, who have been in outstanding form for the Chiefs and Highlanders in Super Rugby.

Four other players – Keita Inagaki, Akihito Yamada, Kotaro Matsushima and Hendrik Tui – are also in Australia with Super Rugby sides, while Shota Horie, Shinya Makebe, Kosei Ono and Lelei Mafi are all rehabbing.Kensuke Hatakeyama will captain the side in the absence of Leitch.

"No one outside the original training squad of 41 has played well enough to warrant selection, and as they have no more games to play to show their ability they will be relying on injury to get into the squad," Jones said when he announced the 31 players that would take on South Korea and Hong Kong.

Proof of that came last week when Ryohei Yamanaka and Chihito Matsui were added to the squad to cover flyhalf/centre and wing, respectively.

"Selection was made on historical form, current form and potential form," Jones said, explaining why Craig Wing and Justin Ives were picked despite missing parts of last season.

"I don't pick players who are good in the domestic leagues. I pick players who can play international rugby or have the potential to play international rugby. Good domestic players don't win international games and that's the same everywhere in the world."

"I watched the Japan Cup final the other day and only five players put their hand up for selection. One is ineligible to play for Japan and I've picked the other four," added Jones.

Three uncapped players were named in the original squad – which shows a 19-12 forwards-backs split – in lock Kazuhiko Usami, prop Ryu Sioapelatu Holani (brother of No 8 Ryu Koliniasi Holani) and flanker Tsuyoshi Murata, with sevens player Matsui also yet to play for the full national team.

The team has been in camp in Miyazaki, where they will spend close on 120 days in the build-up to the World Cup and Jones promised the players before they left that they would be working hard.

Jones said that while he would like to win every game in the build-up to the World Cup, performing well in England was his top priority.

"We obviously want to win every game but at the back of our minds we are preparing for the Rugby World Cup," Jones said.

Hong Kong meanwhile is hoping its appearance in a re-structured 2015 Asian Rugby Championship will help them close the gap on regional powerhouse Japan but their primary target will once again be Korea in a fast-developing rivalry in recent seasons as the two unions jostle for spots in Asia's rugby pecking order.

Hong Kong will open their campaign at home with a crucial tie versus South Korea at the Hong Kong Football Club on 25 April. The competition will end with Japan clashing with Hong Kong at Aberdeen Stadium on May 23.

"Our hope is that all of these games will be close," said Trevor Gregory.

"While it is crucial that Hong Kong and Korea close the gap on Japan, it is also important that Japan raises its own standards and close the gap on the rest of the world before 2019 when they host the World Cup. Hopefully more intense competition in the Asia region will help them in this objective as well," Gregory said.

With Japan winning an automatic berth at the 2019 World Cup as hosts, Asian officials are hopeful that a second Asian team will be able to force its way into the showpiece and believe the re-structured Asian Rugby Championship will help lift standards.

In the last two World Cup qualifying rounds, Hong Kong (2015) and Kazakhstan (2011) stumbled in the first-round repechage to Uruguay, playing away in Montevideo. There is a growing call for these games to be played on a home-and-away basis.

"The only way the other Asian teams are going to lift their standards is to play more games against top sides. The Tri-Nations format will give Hong Kong and Korea that chance and I believe the First Division can also close the gap with countries like Sri Lanka and Kazakhstan having the ability to improve," Gregory said.

Japan squad for 2015 ARC:

Forwards - Justin Ives (Canon), Ryuhei Arita (Coca-Cola), Shoji Ito (Kobe Kobelco), Kazuhiko Usami (Canon), Hitoshi Ono (Toshiba), Shinnosuke Kakinaga (Suntory), Takeshi Kizu (Kobe Kobelco), Luke Thompson (Kintetsu), Yusuke Nagae (Toyota Industries), Kensuke Hatakeyama (Suntory), Hisateru Hirashima (Kobe Kobelco), Michael Broadhurst (Ricoh), Hayden Hopgood (Kamaishi), R.K. Holani (Panasonic), R.S. Holani (Panasonic), Masataka Mikami (Toshiba), Tsuyoshi Murata (NEC), Hiroshi Yamashita (Kobe Kobelco), Hiroki Yuhara (Toshiba).Backs - Craig Wing (Kobe Kobelco), Keisuke Uchida (Panasonic), Ayumu Goromaru (Yamaha), Male Sa'u (Yamaha), Harumichi Tatekawa (Kubota), Yu Tamura (NEC), Toshiaki Hirose (Toshiba), Atsushi Hiwasa (Suntory), Kenki Fukuoka (Univ. of Tsukuba), Yoshikazu Fujita (Waseda Univ.), Karne Hesketh (Munakata Sanix), Yuki Yatomi (Yamaha), Ryohei Yamanaka (Kobe Kobelco), Chihito Matsui (Doshisha University).

Hong Kong Squad for 2015 ARC:

John Aikman (HK Scottish HKS), Lachlan Chubb (HKS), James Cooper (HK Cricket Club, HKCC), Paul Dwyer (HKCC), Jack Delaforce (HKCC), Alex Baddeley (Valley), Matt Lamming (HKCC), Nick Hewson (captain, Valley), Chris McAdam (Kowloon), Salom YIU Kam Shing (Valley), Tyler Spitz (USRC Tigers), Max Woodward (Valley), Tom McQueen (HKCC), Alex McQueen (HKCC), Alex Harris (Kowloon), Leon Wei Hon Sum (Valley), Jack Nielsen (HKCC), Bill Brant (HKCC), Toby Fenn (Valley), Jamie Hood (HK Football Club, HKFC), Charlie Higson Smith (HKFC), Niall Rowark (HKFC), Adam Butterfield (HKFC), Adam Rolston (Valley), Ben Rimene (Valley), Gavin Hadley (HKFC), Jean Baptiste Aldige (Valley), Moses Bailey (HKCC), Cado LEE Ka-To (Kowloon), Jonny Rees (HKFC).

South Korea Squad for 2015 ARC:

Park Wan Yong (KEPCO), Lee Myung Jun (Sang Mu), Shin Ki Chul (KRU), Oh Youn Hyung (KEPCO), Lee Eu Dum (POSCO), Kim Nam Uk (KEPCO), Jegal Bin (NTT Communications), Kim Sung Soo (KEPCO), Kim Gwong Min (KEPCO), Chang Yong Heung (Yonsei Uni), Park Han Gyul (KRU), Jang Sung Min (Sang Mu), Nam Young Soo (Sang Mu), Shin Dongwon (KRU), Son Yung Ki (POSCO), Kim Kwang Sik (Honda), Park Sung Ku (KRU), Kim Jeep (Korea Armed Forces Athletic Corps, KAFAC), Na Kwan Young (KAFAC), Kim Min Kyu, Young Kwon Woo (Yokogawa), Kim Ho Bum (Kubota), Jang Seok Hwan (KAFAC), Park Soon Chai (NTT), Han Kun Kyu (KEPCO), Kim Jeong Min (captain, KEPCO), Kim Hyun Soo (KEPCO), Yun Il Han (Dankook Uni), Son Min Su (Kyunghee Uni), Hwang In Jo (KEPCO), Lee Yong Seung (HINO).

ASIA RUGBY CHAMPIONSHIP 2015 SCHEDULE - TOP 3

Week

DATE

MATCH

KICK OFF

VENUE

1

April 18 (Sat)

South Korea v Japan

12.00

Namdong Asiad Rugby Stadium,

Incheon, Korea

2

April 25 (Sat)

Hong Kong v South Korea

16.00

Hong Kong Football Club,

3

May 2 (Sat)

Japan v Hong Kong

14.00

Chichibunomiya Stadium, Tokyo

4

May 9 (Sat)

Japan v South Korea

14.00

Level 5 Stadium, Fukuoka

5

May 16 (Sat)

South Korea v Hong Kong

12.00

Namdong Rugby Stadium,

6

May 23 (Sat)

Hong Kong v Japan

16.00

Aberdeen Stadium, Hong Kong

ASIA RUGBY WOMEN'S CHAMPIONSHIP 2015 SCHEDULE

DATE

MATCH

KICK OFF

VENUE

April 25 (Sat)

(1) Kazakhstan v (2) Hong Kong

16.00

Kazakhstan Stadium, Almaty

May 9 (Sat)

(3) Japan v (1) Kazakhstan

11.00

Level 5 Stadium, Fukuoka, Japan

May 23 (Sat)

(2) Hong Kong v (3) Japan

13.00

Aberdeen Stadium, Hong Kong

DIVISION 1

DATE

SF/Finals

TEAMS

KICK-OFF

VENUE

May 6 (Wed)

Semi Final 1

(2) Sri Lanka v (3) Kazakhstan

14.00

Philippines Sports Stadium

Manila, Philippines


Semi Final 2

(1) Philippines v (4) Singapore

16.00

Manila, Philippines

May 9 (Sat)

3rd / 4th

Loser SF1 v Loser SF2

16.00

Manila, Philippines


Final

Winner SF1 v Winner SF2

18.00

Manila, Philippines

DIVISION 2

DATE

TEAMS

KICK-OFF

VENUE

May 10 (Sun)

(1) UAE v (4) Thailand

15.00

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia


(2) Chinese Taipei v (3) Malaysia

17.00

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

May 13 (Wed)

(2) Chinese Taipei v (4) Thailand

15.00

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia


(1) UAE v (3) Malaysia

17.00

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

May 16 (Sat)

(1) UAE v (2) Chinese Taipei

15.00

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia


(3) Malaysia v (4) Thailand

17.00

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

DIVISION 3 West

DATE

TEAMS

KICK-OFF

VENUE

Apr 14 (Tues)

(2) Lebanon v (3) Jordan

19.30

Jounieh, Lebanon

Apr 16 (Thur)

(1) Iran v (3) Jordan

18.30

Jounieh, Lebanon

Apr 18 (Sat)

(1) Iran v (2) Lebanon

18.30

Jounieh, Lebanon

DIVISION 3 Central

DATE

TEAMS

KICK-OFF

VENUE

May 24 (Sun)

(1) Uzbekistan v (3) Pakistan

17.00

Tashkent, Uzbekistan

May 27 (Wed)

(2) India v (3) Pakistan

17.00

Tashkent, Uzbekistan

May 30 (Sat)

(1) Uzbekistan v (2) India

17.00

Tashkent, Uzbekistan

DIVISION 3 East

DATE

TEAMS

KICK-OFF

VENUE

June 7 (Sun)

(2) Guam v (3) Indonesia

15.00

Jakarta, Indonesia

June 10 (Wed)

(1) China v (2) Guam

15.00

Jakarta, Indonesia

June 13 (Sat)

(1) China v (3) Indonesia

15.00

Jakarta, Indonesia