Wednesday, 27 May 2009

Gulangyu's Rubgy Invasion

Xiamen. Until a few months ago, Xiamen was just another port city in China that I only ever saw in supplier quotations. All that was to change a few months ago, though, when our (very much social) rugby union team were approached by the Xiamen Typhoons. Set up a couple of years ago, the Typhoons had yet to play a competitive match. With a few enthusiasts and many players who’d never laid eyes on the revered egg-shaped ball, they’d previously focussed on training and touch rugby matches. Now was time for a coming-out party.

And what a party. With the enthusiastic backing of the local community, and fantastic support from the business community, the Typhoons set about arranging the inaugural Xiamen Gulangyu 10s tournament. With just four teams (the Typhoons and Hong Kong’s Happy Valley Griffins were joined by the Guangzhou Rams and the Shanghai Hairy Crabs), the tournament would take place over just one day, with late kick-offs and plenty of time for the main event – the beach party. With painful memories of the recent Manila 10s tournament (leaving the hotel at 7 am two days running to get to the ground in time, and then hanging around until late), this sounded like heaven.

The cherry on the top of this rugby-flavoured icing was the ground on which the tournament took place. Gulangyu Island is to Xiamen as Shamian is to Guangzhou. A tiny colonial enclave, Gulangyu boasts no cars, some stunning architecture, and a 111-year old football pitch. Our mission was to show Gulangyu what they’d been missing all these years and, for the first time in its 111-year history, pick up the ball and run with it. That’s right, this was to be the first every rugby played on the beautiful Gulangyu pitch.

The Typhoons and Gulangyu ground staff had done a fantastic, innovative, job preparing for us. There were beer and food tents, plenty of shade and seats, and rugby posts approximated by leaving the football goals and adding bamboo uprights! So to the rugby. Luring the competition into a false sense of security with our receding hairlines, beer bellies, and magnificent tour shirts, we won the tournament. And then on to the beach party, to watch the moon rise over Taiwan in the distance, accompanied by fireworks. Spectacular. We may have won the rugby, but we were soundly beaten in the drinking ‘boat race,’ and didn’t fare much better on the bucking bronco either. Details, details.

I can’t wait for next year. My name will be first on the list for this tour, and I hope to spend a few extra days in Xiamen to see more of what looks like a fascinating place.

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