It's rugby, but not as we know it. Introducing the China Lions, Bay of Plenty Rugby's newest professional rugby team.

They're called the China Lions because of a partnership formed between Bay of Plenty Rugby and China Rugby Football Association. And the team will make its debut this weekend against Fiji in a brand new competition called Global Rapid Rugby.

The team is based in the Bay of Plenty this year, before relocating to Shanghai for next year's season. The competition includes teams from Samoa, China, Australia, Fiji and Malaysia - and was launched with the aim of attracting new fans to the sport.

While most rules are the same as rugby union, there's a few small changes. In global rapid rugby, players can't kick the ball from behind their own 22-metre line and there's extra points for scoring length of the field tries.


"We're getting there, we're trialling things all the time so we certainly don't have all the answers," said head coach Mike Rogers, in regard to adapting to the new competition rules.

"We've been fortunate enough to play a few pre-season games where we've tried different things and some of those things have worked really well.

"I put it kind of close to Formula One racing, where it's a technology race to begin with. At the moment we're in that phase where it's a little bit of a race to figure out the impact on our game strategy."

The introduction of the competition is a big deal for many Bay of Plenty rugby players, giving them the option to stay in their hometowns and be paid to play, instead of travelling elsewhere to play the sport.

"It's a dream result really, obviously many young men's and women's aspirations is to be a professional rugby player," said China Lions captain Hugh Blake.

"It's a tough thing to try to achieve when you're working full time, training nights and that sort of thing, so to be given the opportunity to play professional rugby here in the Mount, to all these boys, it's big."

It's a once in a lifetime opportunity for many of these players and it's only just getting started.

"I think when you consider what other alternatives people have around maybe going back to work, or having to go into a competition overseas where they don't really want to go, it shouldn't really be that hard to develop a good mindset," Rogers said.


"We've got an opportunity to make history, an opportunity to play a new and exciting competition. If that doesn't get you out of bed in the morning then maybe you shouldn't be playing rugby!"

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