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Pro rugby takes massive step forward in Asia with announcement of Grand League

By Tom Vinicombe
Kim Kwang-min. (Photo by Kim Jae-Hwan/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Thursday marked a big step forward for rugby in Asia with the local federation announcing a new pan-Asia competition set to kick off in 2024.

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Eight clubs from around Asia will compete in the first edition of the newly conceived Grand League, with the competition set to expand further in the years following.

While teams for the Grand League have not yet been confirmed, it’s anticipated that the likes of Hong Kong, South Korea, Malaysia, Thailand and the Philippines could all take part in the new tournament.

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“Council was briefed [at the latest general meeting] on the brand new Asia Rugby Grand League, a clubs franchise-oriented competition planned to see lights during quarter one and two in the year 2024,” Asia Rugby said in a statement.

“Eight targeted national federations have been identified and will commence constructive collaboration during the first working group meeting scheduled for Friday 3rd February 2023 in Singapore.

“The concept will be rolled out on phases running from the year 2024 to 2027.”

Asia Rugby president Qais Al Dhalai – who was also confirmed as the continent’s new World Rugby council member at the meeting – suggested on Twitter that the intention was to ostensibly mimic the developments that have occurred in South America, in part thanks to the introduction of the Super Liga Americana de Rugby.

The SLAR has seen franchises from across South America go to battle over the past three years, with two expansion sides from North America set to join the competition in 2023.

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South American rugby has gone from strength to strength in recent seasons, with three sides from the continent set to compete at next year’s Rugby World Cup: Argentina, Uruguay and Chile. While the progress in Uruguay and Chile, in particular, had been steady prior to the conception of SLAR, the new competition has undoubtedly helped to fast-track both nations’ development in the Test arena.

Only one side from Asia has ever featured at the World Cup, fan-favourites Japan.

Hong Kong competed at the most recent final qualifier tournament against the likes of Portugal, USA and Kenya, but was hugely outclassed by their opposition. A cumulative -155 points differential over three games made for disappointing viewing for fans of the game in Asia, but the new Grand League could help to significantly grow the game in the world’s most populated continent.

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