A disturbance in the Force: China set to shake up world rugby

Last weekend, China booked their place at the Olympics.

Hosting the Asian qualifying tournament in the southern city of Guangzhou, the Chinese women amassed 213 points in five matches, while conceding just seven.

They defeated South Korea 49-0, Hong Kong 42-7 and Sri Lanka 55-0, before thumping Thailand 34-0 in the semi-finals and Hong Kong again in the final, 33-0.

This could be a huge development for the game. China’s involvement at next year’s Olympics in Tokyo will place rugby firmly on the map in the world’s most populous nation.

Also the second-largest economy, the nation brings unlimited potential to the sport in financial terms. Already a sponsorship offer has been made by multinational conglomerate Alibaba, reportedly worth $100m over ten years, though it fell through after the government made sweeping changes to administration last year.

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According to World Rugby statistics, China has 35,000 registered players, which is more than some second-tier unions, despite equating to one of the lowest figures per capita among recognised playing nations. They are ranked 80th in the world in men’s XVs and 24th in women’s

The women’s sevens team is coached by Sean Horan, who led New Zealand to silver at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. China failed to qualify for that event, but can now look forward to their chance in Tokyo.

Japan have already qualified for the Olympics as host nation. Hong Kong and Kazakhstan will receive a second chance at the global repechage tournament after finishing second and third, respectively.

The Asian men’s qualifiers take place in South Korea later this month.

Australia’s men qualified from the Oceania tournament in Fiji last weekend, defeating Samoa 19-12 in the decisive match. They also won the tournament with a 22-7 defeat of the host nation in the Cup final. The luckless Samoans will now return to the repechage tournament, where they were beaten by Spain in a tight final four years ago. Tonga will join them.

Elsewhere, Kenya’s men grabbed their spot, predictably enough, hammering Uganda 29-0 in the final of the African qualifiers in Brakpan. Uganda will be joined at the global repechage tournament by Zimbabwe, who beat Madagascar 24-7 in the third-place playoff.

Ten teams have now qualified for the men’s competition: Japan as hosts, defending champions Fiji, USA, New Zealand and South Africa via the World Series, as well as Great Britain, Argentina and Canada, who all came through their respective regional qualification tournaments.

New Zealand, USA, Canada, Australia, Brazil, Great Britain, Kenya, Japan and Fiji are confirmed for the 12-team women’s competition. The latter were runners-up to Australia in the weekend’s Oceania tournament.

Sevens will be played as an Olympic sport for the second time in Japan, having debuted at Rio. The tournament is expected to generate an estimated 30 million new fans worldwide when it is played at the Tokyo Stadium on July 31 and August.

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