Canada’s Callum Tam takes a liking to Hong Kong rugby in 50th New Year’s Day tournament

The 17-year-old shines on his first ever trip to the city as the Overseas Lions take the boys match and the Dragons prevail in the girls

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 01 January, 2017, 10:44pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 03 January, 2017, 1:39pm

Sunday’s New Year’s Day Youth Rugby Tournament may have unearthed a star of the future in hooker Callum Tam, who before this week had never even been to Hong Kong.

Tam was named best afield as the Overseas Lions held off a fast-finishing Hong Kong Dragons to win the under-19 boys match 19-17 in the 50th edition of the annual competition.

The 17-year-old has spent his whole life in Canada but is eligible to represent Hong Kong because of the fact his father was born here.

“Right now I’m just looking at my opportunities since it’s my last year of high school,” Tam said.

Watch: Highlights of the Hong Kong New Year’s Day Youth Rugby Tournament

“Rugby can take you anywhere in the world. I’m also on the 40-man long list for the Canada under 18 international side. Hopefully I can make rugby a job, that’s the dream.”

According to HKRU player development manager Stephen Dowse, who coached the under-19 Lions, Tam could be the answer to Hong Kong’s lack of hooker depth.

“He’s a Hong Kong-qualified hooker which is a position we are looking to strengthen,” he said.

“He does his position-specific skills very well. His line-out’s very good, his throwing is very good, he’s very vocal on the pitch which is a massive positive and he enjoys the physicality.”

While it remains to be seen whether he will become a permanent part of the Hong Kong set-up, Tam’s initial impression of the city and his new teammates was nothing but positive.

“It’s very beautiful out here, I like Hong Kong,” he said.

“It was a different experience because I came at the second-last training session, so I just met the team. But they are a good team, they are really open and now I can call them my brothers.”

The Lions led throughout the match after Harry Laidler crossed to open the scoring and Theodore Leung found the line soon after to give his side a 14-0 lead.

Trailing 14-5 at the break, the Dragons found themselves down 19-5 after Tam got in on the act, but late tries to Oliver Overman and Liam Herbert ensured a tense finish.

Dowse paid tribute to the standard of a game that featured a number of players who will be knocking on the door for senior selection in the next 12 months.

“There’s a number of guys who are just on the fringes at the minute, someone like Mark Coebergh, he’s looking to kick on this year and there are other guys who are coming through as well,” he said.

Before the main game the Warriors Dragons took on the Warriors Lions in an under-19 boys match that required all players to be Hong Kong passport holders.

The Lions hung on to win 20-17 despite a late charge by the Dragons, with Sailo Lai Yiu-pang, who coached both sides, confident some of the talent on show will one day represent Hong Kong.

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“For the red team, number 11 (Nicolas Poon) is a sprinter and the MVP, Sam Tsio (Kin-san), is also in athletics,” he said.

“We are trying to develop potential players from other sports.”

Kelsie Bouttle was the star of the show for Hong Kong in their 17-0 win over the Lions in the under-19 girls.

Having recently debuted for Valley in the Women’s Premiership, Bouttle was electric as the Dragons had all the answers.

“It was nice to play against the girls that we played with last year, it was really good to play against them and see how they’ve progressed since they’ve been away,” she said.

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“I have been playing since under-14s and it’s an event that we look forward to every year.”

The earlier games saw the Island Lions prevail over the Peninsula Dragons in the boys and girls under-12s and 14s, while the Dragons got one back in the under-16 girls.

The boys under-16 match was the first of the Hong Kong v Overseas clashes, with Hong Kong running out 34-7 winners.

The prestigious Larry Abel Trophy – awarded to the player judged the best of all of the best and fairest winners across the day – went to under-16 girl Anna Birkett.

Birkett, who was a member of the successful Dragons side, is only the second girl to win the award after current Hong Kong player Natasha Olson-Thorne.

“It’s such an honour to get this trophy,” Birkett said.

“Today has been incredible and our team did so well. It’s great having so many family and friends here watching and supporting.”