Elijah Ferrian meets up with Peter Holdsworth of Al Fresco’s Group, and talks their big rugby events coming up. Photos provided.

A couple of years ago Peter Holdsworth’s boss came to his team with a crazy idea: recreating the Hong Kong 7’s, which is a huge rugby event there, in Ho Chi Minh City. The vision is to create a rugby event that is for every nation in the region, and eventually the world.

Back in 2015, they got a couple of Hong Kong teams, like Hong Kong Scottish. Then they invited a team from Australia, and the local team known as the Saigon Geckos. They put together a six-team tournament as a pilot event.

Rather than just turning up on a Satruday for a rugby game,  they really wanted to emphasise the hospitality side of things as well as organising an entertaining sporting event.

“On a Friday night we collected the teams at the airport.” Holdsworth explained. “They had beers on the bus and a cheerleader team. We had a huge party before that night, the day before the games began, and Al Fresco’s catered the whole event. An endless smorgasbord of quality food and drink. Then on Saturday we rolled into the tournament. Later that night we went to Cargo (back when it was still open) and had a celebration.”

They were seriously wondering if they could pull of this huge event. Would people in Saigon “get it?” Would the teams that participated be into it? They hosted it at RMIT University Vietnam’s field. To say it was a hit would be an understatement.

“All the teams we brought were blown away,” said Holdsworth. “Most times teams do this they are given a few vouchers for beer, and that’s about it. We wanted to show them a fun party atmosphere, and treat them like kings.”

The next year they organized the event again, and they went from 6 teams to 16 different teams from 14 countries. Australia, Malaysia, Singapore, China, Myanmar, Cambodia, and Hong Kong, to name a few. Basically all of Southeast Asia and Australia.

Saigon Rugby 10's 2017“What we did is hire 120 different models for the cheerleader squads,” Holdsworth told me. “Basically, they take care of the teams for the entire time they are here. Each bus arrives, huge drums and dragon dances lead the teams into the District 7 location we housed them at. We had a big pool area. A massive party on Friday, and a unique hospitality tent at the game on Saturday as well. There was a VIP area, and Caravel made that a great success. We developed a creative kids area. Stuff like virtual reality stations and play areas for kids to burn off their endless energy. We wanted to build this into a more family event for everyone.”

While this event has been developing into an all-around family weekend, there wasn’t just stuff for kids. The team hosted chiropractors, FV Hospital sponsored and had some doctors in attendance. There were 12 masseurs. Magners and Heineken provided ciders and beer.

There was a great DJ all day. Saigon Geckos, in collaboration with international rugby player Gerrick Morgan and Australian player Damien Smith, hosted a coaching session with kids from around the area free of charge, and provided food and drink for them. The idea behind this was that Mom and Dad can enjoy watching and learning about rugby while the kids can enjoy themselves playing fun games with some heroes of the sport.

The big question now is, what are they going to do this year?

“Not many teams that go to these kind of events are treated like how we treat them. It’s total VIP-style, and that’s helping a lot to drive interest in the event. Teams know where they’re staying. They’re greeted with beers on the bus, and fantastic cheerleader teams introducing them to the city. We’ve gone from six teams the first year, to sixteen, to twenty-six this year. More than likely, we’ll probably be close to the thirty-two teams we’d like to have. Which means we’ll have to increase the time of the tournament from Saturday through Sunday.”

This year the event has achieved a major sponsorship from Wolf Blass, an Australian winery based in Nuriootpa, South Australia within the Barossa Valley wine region. They’ll be signed up as a major sponsor for the next three years.

Saturday is the first part of the tournament, and will host all of the group games. This year they’ve split the categories. Full-on go, where teams hit hard, a veteran’s pool of players over 35, and this year for the first time Rugby 10s will host women’s rugby.

Again at the venue, it’s hospitality all around. It’s obviously a bigger event, and there’s more teams, so each team will have its own tent. This year International School Ho Chi Minh City is sponsoring the kid’s activation area.

There’ll be a big coaching clinic for kids, lots of loud music, and everyone will get to watch some great rugby from some international teams that have never stepped foot in Vietnam before.

“We’re trying to get Vietnamese involved more,” says Holdsworth. “Saigon Geckos have some Vietnamese players on their side, but we want to create a fun party event that everyone can enjoy. There’s guys coming here that normally wouldn’t even think of coming to Vietnam, and we want people that normally wouldn’t watch rugby here checking it all out.

Sunday is the final round, and after the game, there will be a 1,000-square-metre tent for a dance party.

“We’ve got booking already for next year,” Holdsworth exclaims. “New Zealand and teams from South America have already booked their spots. Ideally we’d love this to be a 100-team tournament, to get more community involvement, and to incorporate another sport. Touch rugby is another idea. There is so much potential for this event. We do know that a lot of Vietnamese are playing touch rugby, because it’s a non-contact sport. People would like to do without the bruises and broken bones thereafter.”

The Wolf Blass Saigon Rugby 10s tournament will kick off at 9am from 16 to 18th September at RMIT Uni Phu My Hung, D7, Saigon.