Band of brothers: Hong Kong youngsters ready to take chance against Kenya A in Nairobi friendly
U20 players Hugo Stiles, Finlay Field, Alexander Post, Liam Owens and Mike Parfitt included in travelling party as coach Leigh Jones seeks to add much-needed depth to his squad
Years of playing and training together will ensure Hong Kong’s young ‘band of brothers’ enter Tuesday’s friendly against Kenya in Nairobi confident of making an immediate impact.
For under-20 sevens captain Hugo Stiles, who is in the touring squad along with current or recent under-20 players Finlay Field, Alexander Post, Liam Owens and Mike Parfitt, the opportunity to tour with the senior 15s squad is a dream come true.
“I’ve grown up playing rugby with these guys,” he said. “To be invited in at the same time, we’ve almost got the same ideas.
“We’ve trained together for so long so we know each other like the back of our hands. It’s nice to go into it all together with a bit of confidence, have each others shoulders as the young bucks.”
— HKRU (@HongKongRugby) August 19, 2016
Although the week-long stay in Kenya will be as much a learning experience as anything, the increasing level of commitment shown by Hong Kong’s young players augurs well for the future.
While in the past Hong Kong has had trouble retaining young talent – with players lost to university and the lure of playing elsewhere – Stiles is confident there is a new trend developing.
“With all the money they have invested in the sports institute, the coaches, the whole environment, it is quite a positive for us,” he added.
“I can’t see anywhere else that we would prefer to be [after university] than back with our families in Hong Kong and playing rugby, the sport we love.”
Stiles, Post and Owens are all currently studying and playing in the United Kingdom, while Field debuted for Hong Kong in the Asia Rugby Championship (ARC) in June and is currently based in Taiwan.
Stiles, who made his sevens debut for Hong Kong in the HSBC Sevens World Series in Japan last year, highlighted the increased level of professionalism as a major draw card for young players, something he has witnessed first hand.
“Training at the sports institute for the year prior to going to university was an unbelievable experience and training at THEi [the Technological and Higher Education Institute of Hong Kong] this month has been awesome as well,” he said.
“It is becoming really professional which is really inviting to see and I’m hoping that in the future they are willing to take me back. It is definitely an opportunity I’m looking at after university.”
Hong Kong have travelled to Kenya without as many as 22 of their best players due to the Asia Rugby Sevens Series beginning next week, presenting coach Leigh Jones with the perfect opportunity to develop some much needed depth.
A greater pool of players is one thing Hong Kong lacks – especially when compared to a nation like Japan who won this year’s ARC with what was considered to be close to a third-string side.
The first match will allow Jones to get some game time into not only the youth, but also the elite rugby programme players who are not yet eligible to represent Hong Kong at test level, with the sides also set to meet in a test on Saturday.
Matt Rosslee and Ben Roberts are set to feature in the friendly before becoming eligible to represent Hong Kong at test level prior to the second meeting on Saturday.
“We look at the youngsters first of all, this is a great experience for them,” Jones said. “There is nothing like international experience to expedite their growth.
“Then you look at the programme boys coming in, the likes of Matt and Ben qualifying will also be available, then people like Jason [Kjestrup] and Conor Hartley, just to give them some rugby and have a look at them at this next level.
“They are good players at club level and it will be interesting to see how they perform at the next level.”
Hong Kong team to play Kenya:
Adam Fullgrabe, Jamie Tsang, Rohan Cook, Mike Parfitt, Finlay Field, Tony Wong Ho-yeung, Cheung Ho-yin, Nick Hewson (captain), Charles Cheung Ho-ning, Jason Kjestrup, Conor Hartley, Jamie Robinson, Matthew Rosslee, Jonny Rees, Hugo Stiles, Ben Roberts, Ben Higgins, Jack Parfitt, Daniel Falvey, Matthew Lamming, Charles Higson-Smith, Liam Owens, Adam Rolston.