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Star Draws: Organiser Jean-Baptiste Aldigé on Top 14′s Asia debut in HK


The Toulouse and Racing clash for the Natixis Rugby Cup in Hong Kong on November 9 marks the first time two Top 14 sides have played in Asia. However, organiser JEAN-BAPTISTE ALDIGE of Team One Asia stresses the match is a ‘constellation’ of world stars rather than a French affair.


By SportAsia


How did the idea come about to bring two big French clubs – Stade Toulousain and Racing Metro 92 from Paris – to Hong Kong, where exhibition matches have typically involved sides from Britain, Australia and New Zealand?

It’s true, it’s two French clubs, but I don’t like it when we speak about the French game. The French league, the Top 14, is now the best team championship in the world because it has the money, so all the clubs recruit players from all around the world. But for the two clubs coming to Hong Kong, Toulouse (Stade Toulousains) and Racing Metro 92, maybe only 20 per cent of the squad are French. The other players are from all around the world.


I can give some names from Toulouse. For example, they have the two All Blacks, Luke McAlister and Hosea Gear; Springboks like [Gurthro] Steenkamp and [Jano] Vermaak; Samoans like Census Johnston and Joe Tekori; and many others.

Former All Black flyhalf Luke McAlister is one of an array of international stars set to star in the Toulouse and Racing clash at Aberdeen Stadium on November 9.

Former All Black Luke McAlister is one of an array of international stars set to star in the Toulouse and Racing clash for the Natixis Rugby Cup at Aberdeen Stadium in Hong Kong on November 9.

On the Racing side, there are the Lions boys like Jamie Roberts, Dan Lydiate and Jonny Sexton; Soane Tonga’uiha [of Tonga] and Brian Mujati [of South Africa] both came from Northampton; Juandre Kruger, the Springbok lock, and many others. It’s just a constellation of many stars.


It’s two French clubs, but on the pitch it’s players from all around the world. That’s why we organised this game.


Some exhibition matches in Hong Kong have disappointed. How will the Natixis Rugby Cup be different, aside from the fact it’s being held at Aberdeen Stadium?

It’s very simple. I’ve been a professional for 10 years all over the world, including in New Zealand, England and France, and have been in Hong Kong for two years. Since I came to Hong Kong, I’ve watched the excitement of the Hong Kong Sevens, with 120,000 spectators in three days. It’s perfect, just sevens. The people enjoy this.


On the other side, we sometimes have 15s rugby in June, when it’s over 30 degrees with high humidity. Since the All Blacks played Australia for the Bledisloe Cup, I didn’t watch any serious 15s rugby in Hong Kong.


Last year, I watched a game between Saracens and Asia-Pacific Barbarians. All the year we talked about that and when June came, we got just Academy players from Saracens and they played against Asia-Pacific Barbarians, big names, but it wasn’t a serious rugby game.


It was the same thing for the Lions this year. It was terrible. It was a very good team, big names coming, but at the end, it was 30 degrees, many dropped balls, 50 points on the scoreboard. That’s not 15s rugby.


For the first time in Hong Kong, the two teams are coming in November, during the regular season, and they will be playing league matches the week before and the week after Hong Kong. Both teams are also competing in the current Heineken Cup.


From left: Trevor Gregory, Chairman of the Hong Kong Rugby Football Union; François Riahi, CEO of Natixis’ Wholesale Banking division in Asia Pacific; Jean-Baptiste Aldigé, Director of Team One Asia; Arnaud Barthélémy, Consul General of France in Hong Kong and Macau; and Kelly Gave, Ambassador of Room to Read at the launch of the Natixis Rugby Cup.

From left: Trevor Gregory, Chairman of the Hong Kong Rugby Football Union; François Riahi, CEO of Natixis’ Wholesale Banking division in Asia Pacific; Jean-Baptiste Aldigé, Director of Team One Asia; Arnaud Barthélémy, Consul General of France in Hong Kong and Macau; and Kelly Gave, Ambassador of Room to Read at the launch of the Natixis Rugby Cup.

Each team has a squad of 40 players. There’s a week gap for international matches, so we will lose about four players from Toulouse and five from Racing. In Racing, the only big name missing will be Johnny Sexton from Ireland (who are playing Samoa on November 9), but you will have Jamie Roberts and Dan Lydiate of Wales, Juandre Kruger from South Africa … everybody else will be there.


For Toulouse, their All Blacks and other players will be coming to Hong Kong. Only No. 8 Louis Picamoles, wingers Yoann Huget and Vincent Clerc, the lock Yoann Maestri and maybe Thierry Dusautoir might miss because France are playing New Zealand that day. We already have the official list and we have everybody.


20131014_Naxtixis-Rugby-Cup-posterCan you tell us about what else is being organised that week?

I’m a rugby player, involved in the rugby community as the manager of Valley Fort, and we’re going to give the Hong Kong rugby community a full week of rugby.


Again, for the Lions and the Saracens-Barbarians matches, I saw many people pay big money to come to the Hong Kong Stadium. They came to the game, went back home – ‘thank you very much, see you next year’. That’s not our approach.


Toulouse and Racing will land on the Monday and they will stay one week, going back to France on the Sunday night. On the Tuesday, Toulouse will share a training session with Valley. That means, all the players from Valley will come on the pitch, all the players from Toulouse will come on the pitch, and the Toulouse coaching staff will lead the training. It’s a serious training, not just for people to come and take pictures. It will be the same thing for Racing with Hong Kong Football Club.


On the Wednesday, we have two rugby games for the kids, one for Racing, one for Toulouse, for 120 capacity each. We have school visits to the New Territories for rugby development. On the Thursday night, we have a gala dinner.


I went to the gala dinner for the Lions and the people liked that. They pay a lot of money, go to Hong Kong Football Club, have a beautiful table, and one big star came on the stage. However, this time, we will have speakers on stage – we will have Luke McAlister and Ronan O’Gara, the long-time Ireland flyhalf, who is also a coach of Racing. However, for the first time in Hong Kong, when you book a table, you will also have two players dining at your table, so you can join them in conversation.


On the Friday, there will be an all-French dinner. Each year, they have a championship for all the French schools in Asia. Usually, it’s held in Singapore in February, but this year they’ve changed the schedule and the championship will be in Hong Kong the same week as Toulouse and Racing, with the final at King’s Park on the Friday. Some players will come and present the trophies after the final.


The big game is on the Saturday, at Aberdeen Stadium, which has a 6,000 capacity. At the end of the game, the players will stay on the pitch, sign autographs and share drinks with the spectators. This is like when you go to watch a game in New Zealand or England with your father, and at the end you stay with the players. That’s what I’m looking forward to.


How many of the players have been to Hong Kong before?

Some of the UK players have already been to Hong Kong before, for the British Lions, for example, and some of the All Blacks have been to Hong Kong because there’s a big New Zealand community here and it’s not too far from New Zealand.


But for many of the French players, it’s a big adventure. They trust in my company and me because we’re all players and we have the contacts. For them, they don’t know anything about Hong Kong and they’re very excited about the trip. They’re looking forward to seeing more about the rugby here.


It’s a big thing for rugby in Hong Kong because Racing is a big club and a big brand. Mr [Jacky] Lorenzetti, the President, is also interested in the possibility of creating a club in Hong Kong, as happened with Hong Kong Scottish two years ago. They’re interested to see what they can do within rugby in Asia.


What are your hopes for the match itself?

Like any organiser, I’m hoping for a full attendance. I also want there to be a good crowd because a positive experience will also encourage Racing to form a club in Hong Kong. I promise to everyone – no 50-point scores.


We’ve appointed a referee from Hong Kong, Toby Lothian. I trust in him, the Hong Kong RFU and I think this will be great exposure for him. The game will be shown live on TV in France and in Europe, through L’Equipe. We’re also busy confirming TV coverage across markets in Asia-Pacific.


What does the future hold for the Natixis Rugby Cup?

We have signed with Racing for two years in Asia and Natixis, the French bank, as title sponsor. It’s not confirmed yet whether it will be in Hong Kong next year. For sure, next November we will have another game between Racing and another team, and Singapore is interested because of the Sports Hub opening next year.


Tickets for the Natixis Rugby Cup are priced from HK$400 for children and from HK$700-$1,000 for adults, and are available through (click ‘Arts, Sports & Lifestyle’ on left menu bar). Rugby clubs and selected schools can purchase tickets at discounted prices.

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