Old-timers battle it out for 'Calcutta Cup'

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 18 March, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 18 March, 2012, 12:00am


If they were a number plate, the Rhinos Rugby Football Club who will turn out this Friday would be worth a pretty penny.

The total age of the starting XV who will run out against the Hong Kong Police team is 888.

It couldn't have been choreographed better. But 888 it is as the 15 players battle it out against their arch-rivals in a traditional fixture celebrating its 25th anniversary.

'It is purely by chance the ages add up to 888: we didn't plan this,' said Rhinos chairman Les Bird.

'The replacements are a little younger.'

The trip down memory lane will be one full of Kodak moments, with the Rhinos boasting six former Hong Kong internationals - four in the starting line-up including tighthead prop Steve Tarrant (age 58), locks Allan Payne (61) and Mark Turner (53), open-side flanker Bill Mason (53) and two more on the bench, Rick Field (52) and Rob Bulloch (52). Payne and Field are former Hong Kong captains.

Formed in 1985, the Rhinos have played the Police on the Friday of the Sevens for the past 25 years and, come rain or shine, this fixture will go ahead into the future, Bird says.

'I was a founder member and am the current chairman of the club,' Bird said. 'The Rhinos are predominantly an Asian barbarian touring club that, these days, focuses on charitable work, spreading the word of rugby and hosting coaching clinics for underprivileged children in the venues we tour to.'

In 1988, the Rhinos challenged the then Royal Hong Kong Police rugby club to a match in the week before the Sevens. It has always been held at the Police Club at Boundary Street.

'One of our members was in Calcutta in the weeks before that first Police versus Rhinos match and he picked up a silver cup in a Calcutta market,' Bird said. 'He presented the cup to the two teams before this first fixture and we have been playing for our Calcutta Cup every year on the Friday of the Sevens since then.'

In order to commemorate the 25th anniversary, Bird (60) rummaged in his old belongings to unearth his boots so he could once again be on the park.

'The fact I was the captain of the Rhinos in that first fixture 25 years ago and, as I have just turned 60, I thought it would be the thing to do,' said Bird, a bustling No8 in his heyday. 'I e-mailed all our members and asked if any other 'originals' would like to do the same, and pull on the shirt one more time. To my absolute amazement we have actually managed to attract all 15 Rhinos who played in 1988 and will kick off this year's fixture with exactly the same starting XV as we did in 1988.

'Rhinos from all over Asia, United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and many other countries are flying into Hong Kong to play in the match and celebrate the 25th anniversary of our Calcutta Cup.'

To add spice, their opponents will also feature a number of old-timers.

'We are pleased to hear the Police team will include some of the players from 1988 such as their former captain and Hong Kong international John Heptonstall,' Bird said. 'I know Lynn Edwards and Nori Ray will be at the match, although I am not sure they will be on the park.'