Rwanda ready for historic Hong Kong tour
Hong Kong will witness rugby history next week when Rwanda's national team, the Silverbacks, make their debut in the territory.
While South Africa, Kenya and Zimbabwe will face each other in pool play at the Hong Kong Sevens, a 13-man Rwandan squad is making the long journey from East Africa to play in the Kowloon RugbyFest, a 10s tournament played just before the Sevens featuring teams from around the world.
The Silverbacks - named after Rwanda's signature mountain gorillas - will also benefit from training sessions with elite coaches and go to watch the world famous Hong Kong Sevens in what promises to be the rugby trip of a lifetime.
"Many of the guys have never been outside Rwanda, never seen the sea and never flown," said Hong Kong-born rugby enthusiast and Rwanda volunteer worker Dave Hughes, who is organising the project.
"The visit will be a real eye-opener for them and hopefully something that will encourage and inspire them for the rest of their lives.
Boost for Rugby in Rwanda
"On a more general level, we hope it will be a massive boost for rugby in Rwanda. The country has some naturally talented players and with the right coaching and support the sport could really take off in the same way that it has in Kenya and, to a lesser extent, Uganda."
When the Silverbacks land in Hong Kong on 21 March it will be the latest chapter in a remarkable story that began in 2008, when Hughes was working as a chartered surveyor in the UK.
After reading a book about the 1994 Rwandan genocide, he resigned from his job and flew to the country to work as a volunteer, helping set up a vocational training school for women.
While travelling to work in the capital, Kigali, he was astonished to see some youngsters playing with a rugby ball on a patch of waste ground. "I had no idea rugby even existed in that part of Africa," he added.
He made further enquires and soon became involved in Rwanda's fledging rugby scene, playing, coaching and organising tournaments.
After returning to Hong Kong last year, he hit on the idea of bringing the Rwandans over to play in the territory's Festival of Rugby - a week-long series of tournaments that culminates at the Sevens.
Hong Kong's rugby community embraced the project and offers of help poured in. "People have been very generous and without their help there is no way we could have made this happen.
"They've (the players) been training six days a week. They're very proud to be representing Rwanda."
It has been a long time coming, but the Silverbacks are ready to roar in Hong Kong.