The Origins of Rugby in Asia
The history of Rugby in Asia dates back nearly as long as that in England, where the world’s first rugby football union, the RFU, was established in 1871.
British colonialism (via the East India Trading Company) introduced the Game to many countries during governance of the Straits Settlements in South East Asia, Hong Kong in the East and the Raj in South Asia from the late 19th century and in the early 20th century.
Gymkhana club members introduced the Game in Karachi, marking out a pitch on Bath Island in 1925, for the first rugby ‘season’ there.
The annual Singapore Cricket Club 7s, which started in 1946, is one of the world’s oldest ongoing tournaments.
The game maintained its appeal through the post-2nd World War period and on 15 December, 1968 the Asian Rugby Football Union (ARFU) was founded with 8 founding member unions: Chinese Taipei, Hong Kong, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Singapore, Sri Lanka and Thailand.
The Malaysian COBRA club claims to have started the 10-a-side variation of the Game in 1967.
The Asian Rugby Football Tournament (ARFT) was established in 1969. It is the second oldest international Rugby tournament in the world. From 2009-2014 the tournament was called the Asian 5 Nations (A5N). From 2015, under ARFU’s new name of ‘Asia Rugby’, the tournament continues as the Asia Rugby Championship (ARC).
Western expatriates in the Oil & Gas industry then introduced the Game into the Middle East Gulf states (West Asia) in the early 1970s. In central Asia the Game flourished amongst strong clubs in major cities of the Former Soviet Union until its demise in the late 1980’s and the Game now continues under National Governing Bodies.
The Hong Kong 7s, which started in 1976, arguably put Asia on the global Rugby map. The annual Sevens World Series tournament was a driving force behind the phenomenal growth of 7s and to Rugby’s re-introduction into the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro in 2016 and is on the ‘bucket’ list of events to attend for anyone associated with the Game in Asia.
Asia has been represented at every Rugby World Cup (RWC) since 1987 by Japan. In 2009, the Japan Rugby Football Union became the first Asian union to be awarded the right to host the RWC (in 2019).
The table below shows the annual Asia Rugby Men’s 15’s Champion Union since the competition began.
|1969||Tokyo||5||Japan||South Korea||Hong Kong|
|1972||Hong Kong||7||Japan||Hong Kong|
|1974||Colombo||8||Japan||Sri Lanka||South Korea|
|1978||Kuala Lumpur||7||Japan||South Korea||Singapore|
|1980||Taipei||8||Japan||South Korea||Hong Kong|
|1982||Singapore||8||South Korea||Japan||Hong Kong|
|1984||Fukuoka||8||Japan||South Korea||Chinese Taipei|
|1988||Hong Kong||8||South Korea||Japan||Hong Kong|
|1990||Colombo||8||South Korea||Japan||Hong Kong|
|1992||Hong Kong||8||Japan||Hong Kong||South Korea|
|1994||Kuala Lumpur||8||Japan||South Korea||Hong Kong|
|1996||Taipei||7||Japan||South Korea||Hong Kong|
|1998||Singapore||10||Japan||South Korea||Hong Kong|
|2000||Aomori||8||Japan||South Korea||Chinese Taipei|
|2002||Bangkok||11||South Korea||Japan||Hong Kong|
|2004||Hong Kong||12||Japan||South Korea||Hong Kong|
|2006||Hong Kong||3||Japan||South Korea||Hong Kong|
|2008||single round-robin||5||Japan||South Korea||Hong Kong|
|2009||single round-robin||5||Japan||Kazakhstan||South Korea|
|2010||home or away||5||Japan||Kazakhstan||Hong Kong|
|2011||home and away||5||Japan||Hong Kong||United Arab Emirates|
|2012||home and away||5||Japan||South Korea||Hong Kong|
|2013||home and away||5||Japan||South Korea||Hong Kong|
|2014||home and away||5||Japan||Hong Kong||South Korea|
|2015||home and away||3||Japan||Hong Kong||South Korea|
|2016||home and away||3||Japan||Hong Kong||South Korea|
|2017||home and away||3||Japan||Hong Kong||South Korea|
|2018||home and away||2||Hong Kong||South Korea||Malaysia|