Hong Kong will stage its first ever Super Rugby match on 19 May 2018 at Mong Kok Stadium when Japan’s Hito-Communications Sunwolves host South Africa’s DHL Stormers in Week 14 of the 19-week 2018 regular season.
Although the Sunwolves will be on debut in the city, the side features some familiar faces for local fans – including over 10,000 Japanese residents in the city, with test captain and flanker Michael Leitch, scrumhalf Fumi Tanaka, hooker Shota Horie, backs Yu Tamura, Kenki Fukuoka, Akihito Yamada, Harumichi Tatekawa and sevens star Lomano Lemeki all having represented Japan here previously.
“We are very much delighted to hold our first ever Mistubishi Estate Super Rugby home match in Hong Kong against the Stormers on May 19th at Mong Kok Stadium,” said Mr Yuji Watase, Chief Executive Officer of the Japan Super Rugby Association.
“We are excited to engage with the Sunwolves fans in Hong Kong, which is home to one of the most populous rugby communities, and one of the biggest Japanese communities, in Asia,” added Mr Watase.
The Sunwolves enter the season under a new coach who is also familiar to local audiences in former All Black and Japan international Jamie Joseph, who coached the Highlanders in the first ever appearance of a Super Rugby squad in Hong Kong against Racing 92 in 2016, the year after taking the Highlanders to the Super Rugby championship.
The DHL Stormers Hong Kong debut will mark the second visit of a South African Super Rugby franchise in the city in 2018 after Cell C Sharks beat Racing 92 in the Natixis Cup earlier this month.
The DHL Stormers reached the quarter-finals of last season’s competition, bowing out following a 17-11 loss to The Chiefs at the DHL Newlands Stadium in Cape Town.
A host of senior players have signed contract extensions with Western Province Rugby, the provincial union behind the DHL Stormers, including the Springbok trio of captain Siya Kolisi, Damian de Allende and Steven Kitshoff. Springboks Bongi Mbonambi, Frans Malherbe, Eben Etzebeth and Pieter-Steph du Toit are also currently under contract.
The DHL Stormers draw one of the strongest annual attendances in Super Rugby at Newlands, and now South Africans in Hong Kong will have their opportunity to support a home side at the 6,000-seat Mong Kok Stadium.
DHL Stormers Head Coach Robbie Fleck said that his team is looking forward to the experience of playing in front of a Hong Kong crowd.
“This is another first for the DHL Stormers and something that all of the players and management are really looking forward to. Our matches against the Sunwolves in Singapore have been tough encounters, so we know that we are in for a real test once again,” he said.
Western Province Rugby Group CEO, Paul Zacks, said that it is particularly exciting to take the DHL Stormers brand to yet another new territory.
“In the last two seasons we have taken the DHL Stormers to both Singapore and Argentina for the first time, so we are really looking forward to connecting with our supporters in Hong Kong in 2018.
“The Faithful can be found all over the world and I am sure we will get great support in Hong Kong as well,” he said.
Western Province Rugby Football Union President, Thelo Wakefield, said that it is great to see the DHL Stormers reaching yet another new frontier.
“We have seen how much the DHL Stormers are loved all over the world in recent years, so we are looking forward to standing together with the Faithful in Hong Kong,” said Mr Wakefield.
It will be a meeting of familiar rivals, after the two clubs were grouped in last season’s Africa 1 conference, with Stormers finishing top of the conference log. They swept the series beating Sunwolves 44-31 in Tokyo in week 5 and inflicting a heavier loss, 52-15, on the visitors at Newlands in week 16.
After a restructuring of the competition in the close season, the Stormers are playing in the South African Conference alongside Bulls, Lions, Sharks and Jaguares, while Sunwolves are in the Australian Conference with Brumbies, Rebels, Reds and the Waratahs.
The Sunwolves will open their campaign against the Brumbies in Tokyo on 24 February, while the Stormers got their season off to a winning start with a 28-20 victory over the Jaguares on 17 February.
The match in Hong Kong will shorten the travel distance for the Sunwolves and becomes one of the three Mitsubishi Estate Super Rugby host matches they play each year away from Tokyo’s famed Prince Chichibu Memorial Stadium.
“SANZAAR is excited by the staging of the Sunwolves versus Stormers match in Hong Kong in May as it sees Super Rugby enter yet another new territory.
The profile of Rugby in Asia has been elevated with the introduction of the Sunwolves into Super Rugby with matches already being played in Tokyo and Singapore, and we welcome this opportunity to promote the tournament and the game in China,” said Mr Andy Marinos, Chief Executive Officer of SANZAAR, the body that operates Super Rugby and The Rugby Championship competitions.
Mr Robbie McRobbie, Chief Executive of the Hong Kong Rugby Union welcomed the debut Super Rugby tie in the city long known for its world-famous Hong Kong Sevens tournament:
“Super Rugby is one of the world’s premier rugby competitions and the Hong Kong Rugby Union is excited to welcome the Sunwolves and Stormers for the first ever league fixture here in May.
With a thriving rugby community and a large expatriate population, we are confident that both sides will be well received. “With a global television audience for Super Rugby of nearly 50 million, we are delighted to be bringing another world-class rugby encounter to the city, especially one with such significant stakes, as both sides will be in mid-season form with much to play for. We are confident that fans will flock to the game and welcome the teams with the rugby hospitality that Hong Kong has become famous for,” McRobbie added.