China's best known rugby player Zhang Zhiqiang says the sport is finally taking off in his country but that a lot of work is needed to book a berth at the 2016 Olympics.
The 37-year-old, also known as Johnny Zhang, is the highest points scorer of all time at the Hong Kong Sevens.
He explained that the inclusion of Sevens as an Olympic sport has sparked a massive increase in player numbers in China.
He said: "Rugby was a niche sport in China a few years ago when there were less than 1 000 people playing it.
"But ever since rugby was included in the National Games and the 2016 Olympics, the general public became more interested in it and participation grew as a result," he said.
"New teams are forming across provinces with the backing of the government and this is all good news for rugby in my country," said Zhang, in a press release from the Asian Rugby Football Union.
China currently rank 62nd in the world.
He said previously the game was mainly the preserve of international school students and foreigners and Chinese people would mistake it for American football.
"Now, local kids are excited and proud of this sport, and are eager to learn and practice. You can see the passion and excitement in their eyes," he said.
Zhang said if China qualified for the Olympics "it will create even more awareness amongst the public."
"I hope the players in the provincial teams can improve quickly enough to become key players representing our nation," he said.
"Japan, Hong Kong and (South) Korea are the top teams in Asia and with probably just two slots available, we must work really hard to prove we deserve a place," he added.
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