Asia-friendly and growing: Forrest's rapid rugby revolution
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Hong Kong (AFP)
Australian billionaire Andrew "Twiggy" Forrest has hailed the first foray into Asia of his new rapid-form, high octane version of rugby and is convinced it can take the continent by storm.
Global Rapid Rugby was hatched after Forrest was outraged by his beloved Perth club Western Force being given the boot by Super Rugby in 2017, despite having the second best record of the five Australian sides in the southern hemisphere club competition that season.
The passionate rugby fan was so disillusioned with the way the game was being run in Australia that he decided to start his own competition.
Forrest's brainchild will comprise eight teams from Perth, east Asia and the Pacific islands and the new format is currently touring to gain a head of steam ahead of the first full season launch in March 2020.
"Today was the litmus test to see two Asian sides come head-to-head for the first time," the mining magnate told AFP after jetting into Hong Kong for Sunday's match between the South China Tigers and Singapore's Asia Pacific Dragons.
The Tigers, who represent not just Hong Kong but also the neighbouring Chinese province of Guangdong, won 29-19 in the fourth of a series of showcase matches -- and the first to be held outside Australia.
- Evolving game -
Likened to rugby's version of Twenty20 cricket, match time has been cut to 70 minutes with radical new rules such the outlawing of direct defensive kicks to touch and an innovative nine-point "power try" if a scoring move starts behind a team's own 22-metre line.
The time allowed for scrums and lineouts has been squeezed and 10 rolling substitutes are designed to keep the action free-flowing.
"It is a game that is Asia-friendly," Forrest insisted.
A healthy crowd turned out at Hong Kong's compact Aberdeen Sports Ground to see stars such as former England Test wing Tom Varndell and Fiji's Olympic gold medallist Samisoni Viriviri. "We have a growing fanbase," said Forrest.
Global Rapid Rugby has evolved from Forrest's inaugural concept of World Series Rugby in Perth last year -- initially dubbed the Indo-Pacific Championship -- which featured three teams from Australia and five from Asia-Pacific.
This year there are six sides involved in a showcase series: Western Force, the Dragons, the Tigers, a World XV, Fijian Latui and Kagifa Samoa.
The plan is launch the first full Global Rapid Rugby season of eight teams in March next year with interest also shown by Japan, Malaysia, South Korea and China in hosting franchises.
As with any journey of exploration, there have been bumps along the road, not least having to delay the launch until 2020 because of a "tight time frame and the intricacies of a World Cup year".
Nevertheless the mining magnate sees Asia's inaugural hosting of a Rugby World Cup in Japan later this year as an opportunity to build momentum and attract some big names to his own venture.
"Post World Cup there will be heaps of players who will not be playing for their national sides but will want to keep going," he said.
- Marquee players -
"Would we support clubs in identifying and signing marquee players? Yes we would."
Names bandied about for Global Rapid Rugby next season have even included All Blacks legend Dan Carter, but Forrest would not be drawn into naming any individual targets.
He was keen to emphasise that he is not bankrolling Global Rapid Rugby as a vanity project.
"I'm in it for however long it takes to make it successful," said the man who consistently ranks in the top 10 richest Australians and had a net worth estimated last year at $4.4 billion.
And to make his vision sustainable he knows he needs to develop a base of Asian players and a culture of social rugby to develop fan loyalty and support.
"We need to build the game's social infrastructure. We want to start from the ground up in Asia," he said.
"The next thing we will do is move into schools.
"We are determined to bring in schools to playing rapid rugby, not to go head-to-head with existing rugby but to complement it."
? 2019 AFP