09 Dec 2015

Natixis, the international French bank, will bring French Top-14 league contenders Racing 92 back to Hong Kong for the third time in three seasons to play against defending Super Rugby champions Pulse Energy Highlanders in the Natixis Rugby Cup 2016.

Organised by the Hong Kong Rugby Union and SL Events, the Natixis Rugby Cup 2016 will be held on Saturday, 6 February 2016 at the 11,800-seat Siu Sai Wan Stadium, located in Hong Kong Island’s Eastern District.

The event was formally launched this afternoon in Hong Kong by Mr François Riahi, Chief Executive Officer Natixis, Corporate & Investment Banking, Asia Pacific; Mr Pieter Schats, Chairman of the Hong Kong Rugby Union, and Mr Vern Reid, Chief Executive Officer of the Hong Kong Rugby Union.

In one of the most innovative match-ups in the modern game, and another rugby first for Hong Kong, the Natixis Rugby Cup 2016 pits two of the world’s premier club sides in a unique North-South challenge match. The Natixis Rugby Cup 2016 will be the first match to feature a Super Rugby club in Asia and also marks the first occasion that the Highlanders have played a match against competition from outside of their own hemisphere.

François Riahi, CEO Natixis CIB Asia Pacific, said, “We are delighted to announce the third edition of the Natixis Rugby Cup, which reflects our commitment to supporting rugby and its development in Hong Kong and Asia, and to helping to spread the positive values of rugby.

“The fixture is truly unique, and we are honoured to host two clubs of such calibre and international reputation for what promises to be a memorable sporting event, and a wonderful day of rugby for spectators at the stadium and watching on television from around the world.”

Local fans will welcome the return of Natixis-sponsored Racing 92, who have played here in the two previous Natixis Rugby Cup games: in 2013 versus Stade Toulousain in the first match between two French professional teams in Asia, and in 2014 in a unique engagement that saw the historic French club take on an invitational XV from fellow Natixis-sponsored club Hong Kong Football Club Rugby Section.

Arnaud Tourtoulou, Chief Executive Officer of Racing 92 said, “Racing 92 is delighted to be returning to our home away from home in Hong Kong again in 2016, particularly to play in the Natixis Rugby Cup. We are excited to be meeting Super Rugby champions Highlanders and are confident that rugby and sporting fans worldwide will be riveted by this unique North-South match-up.”

Showcase match on cards as leading clubs head to Hong Kong

Racing 92 enter the Natixis Rugby Cup with perhaps the world’s most famous player, two-time Rugby World Cup champion Dan Carter, who recently joined the historic French club. Fresh from winning his third World Rugby Player of the Year award, Carter will prove a major attraction for fans in his first appearance in club colours here since playing in the Bledisloe Cup tests in Hong Kong in 2008 and 2010.

Alongside Carter, Racing 92 boasts eleven veterans of Rugby World Cup 2015; seven for France (Dimitri Szarzewski, Brice Dulin, Yannick Nyanga, Rémi Talès, Bernard Le Roux, Alexandre Dumoulin and Eddy Ben Arous), two for Wales (Luke Charteris and Mike Philipps) and one for Italy (Martin Castrogiovanni). With such star power and in mid-season form, Racing 92 will arrive in Hong Kong hungry to take home the Natixis Rugby Cup. The team currently lies in third place on the French Top 14 table and are also featuring in the European Rugby Champions Cup.

For the Highlanders, the match will provide strong pre-season preparation as they look to defend their first-ever Super Rugby title, won in 2015 with a team laden with Rugby World Cup–champion All Blacks.

Four Highlanders were selected in New Zealand’s Rugby World Cup winning squad including co-captains Aaron Smith (halfback) and Ben Smith (back three) as well as Waisake Naholo (outside back) and centre Malakai Fekitoa.With all of Highlanders’ Rugby World Cup selections coming from the backline, local fans are in for a display of running rugby in February.

Several other Highlanders players have also been capped for New Zealand and came close to inclusion in the final 31-man squad for the recently completed Rugby World Cup, including up and coming star Lima Sopoaga, who is potentially the heir apparent to Daniel Carter’s No. 10 jersey for the All Blacks. Sopoaga, who has re-signed with the Highlanders through 2018, set a new record for points in a season for the club in 2014/15, proving a key to unleashing their dangerous backs in attack.

Highlanders Chief Executive Officer Roger Clarke said, “‘The chance to play such a quality opposition as Racing 92, in a venue like Hong Kong, is a very exciting prospect for the Pulse Energy Highlanders. This will be the first time we as a club have played in that part of the world. These sort of opportunities don’t come along every day so everyone is looking forward to the experience.”

Jamie Joseph, Head Coach of Highlanders, added, “Our preseason is a very important part of our preparation for Super Rugby. We look to provide opportunities for the team to be tested in different ways, so we view this game as an ideal way to do that. It will certainly be a stimulating challenge for the guys and it’s a match I know they are looking forward to.”

The Natixis Rugby Cup 2016 re-confirms the long-established commitment of Natixis to rugby in Europe and Asia. The French bank has sponsored Racing 92 since 2007. In addition to sponsoring the two previous Natixis Rugby Cups, Natixis is also title sponsor of Hong Kong Football Club Rugby Section, one of Asia’s oldest and most prestigious rugby teams and sports clubs.

The Natixis Rugby Cup 2016 also continues the Hong Kong Rugby Union’s tradition of hosting groundbreaking rugby occasions, which include the first ever Bledisloe Cup played on neutral territory in 2008 – and again in 2010; the first ever British & Irish Lions match in Asia (versus the Barbarians in 2013) and the first ever Asian Zone Olympic qualifier for Rugby Sevens in November 2015.