Rugby team plans to try hard on a trip to the Orient

RUGBY players from Hampstead are jetting out to China to promote the oval ball game and help orphans at the same time

Tan Parsons

RUGBY players from Hampstead are jetting out to China to promote the 'oval ball' game and help orphans at the same time.

Belsize Park RFC is taking a party of 50 players on tour to compete in the second Great Wall Ice Breaker tournament in Beijing. The competition is a social event hosted by Bei-jing Devils RFC and features sides such as the Shanghai Hairy Crabs, the Nantong Tigers and a team from the Mongolian Rugby Association.

While over in China, the players will also donate rugby kit to a street charity based in Shanghai.

Tour manager Marc Friedman said: "Rugby is an emerging sport in China. The army play it and I'm sure they have a few selection headaches seeing as they have about 7,000 people to choose from.

"We have no sponsorship and rugby tours are notoriously difficult to organise but especially so in China. Some of the teams want us to pay them money - that seems to be how it works there - you pay, you play. But it's all coming together.

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"We wanted to go to China because we felt it's in some ways one of the last untouched parts of the world. Many of the teams we are going to be playing are social teams and a lot of them are from ex-pat groups but we wanted to play as many Chinese people as possible."

The tour party will take a 14-hour sleeper journey by rail to Xian - where the British Olympic diving team will have their final training camp for the Olympic Games in August. The party will also pay a visit to the Great Wall and the Terracotta Army during its travels.

Mr Friedman said: "We were aware of the possibility of playing in Hong Kong at the time of the Hong Kong Sevens but we fancied mainland China, so I scouted around and found the Shanghai Hairy Crabs, who kindly invited us over. It has been a big logistical task to get visas privately for 50 individuals but the hard work will be well worth it, I am sure."

In a notable departure from some traditional rugby club values, Belsize Park's tour rules do not permit swearing or public nudity at any time while representing the club. But the members are determined to show the emerging talent in China a good time as part of their mission.

Mr Friedman added: "We are taking with us all our old kit and balls and other things we have picked up along the way. We'll be visiting some Chinese orphanages and giving these things out - it can only do good.

"Sport makes children active and who knows, maybe they'll remember the big white foreigners who gave them a rugby ball and one day grow up to be a rugby hero."

A video blog following the tour's progress will be updated daily on the website