Future of Hong Kong rugby in safe hands as ‘Fab Five’ prosper in junior programme
Joey Cheung Ho-yin, Mark Coeburgh, Callum McFeat-Smith, Alessandro Nardoni and Pierce McKinlay-West are committed to the sport in the city
The junior elite rugby programme is already reaping rewards for Hong Kong rugby, with a group of talented youngsters who have become known as the “Fab Five” coming along in leaps and bounds under the initiative.
The junior programme is in place for those aged 18 to 23 and is currently made up of seven players, with Joey Cheung Ho-yin, Mark Coeburgh, Callum McFeat-Smith and Alessandro Nardoni all members.
The fifth member of the “Fab Five” is openside flanker Pierce McKinlay-West, who captained Hong Kong at the U20 Junior World Trophy in Zimbabwe and was fast-tracked as a full-time member of the senior elite rugby programme on a development contract.
The programme is seen as crucial to the retention and development of Hong Kong talent and the commitment shown by the five is pleasing for the union.
They are among the first emerging players to remain in Hong Kong while they continue their education and press their claims as professional athletes.
“Prior to the programme, we would have lost this talent as they followed the path of many junior players before them in flying the nest for overseas education,” HKRU head of elite player development Andrew Hall said.
“The absence of these players during their uni years presents a significant challenge to our development staff to maintain an active influence and oversight of a player’s educational and rugby development.
“That trend is now reversing with the programme offering a robust career pathway into professional rugby, as well as providing a comprehensive suite of services to assist these young players in furthering their educational and non-rugby career goals.”
Gritty Kowloon flanker Cheung made his senior debut on the tour of Kenya this summer, after figuring prominently in Hong Kong’s previous U20 campaigns.
The high-flying forward is studying airport operation and aviation logistics at City College University.
Coeburgh, a sniping scrum half for Bloomberg Hong Kong Scottish, has been a mainstay of the HKRU’s U20 sevens and 15s programmes and led the schoolboys sevens side that won the Asian Schools Rugby Sevens Championship this year.
He is currently studying business management at City University, while McKinlay-West is studying finance and economics at Hong Kong University.
“I wanted to pursue both my rugby and my academics at the highest level possible,” said McKinlay-West.
“The support that I have received through the programme has helped me manage these goals, which I originally thought were incompatible, but I now realise are actually mutually supportive.”
Natixis HKFC prop McFeat-Smith is studying human resource management at Baptist University, while Scottish flanker Nardoni is enrolled in the Foundation Degree programme at HKU Space.