How best mates Ben Rimene and Lee Jones cut path from NZ to Hong Kong Sevens coalface
The Kiwi pair grew up down the road from one another in Cambridge and have played rugby together for most of their lives
Hong Kong is a long way from the sleepy New Zealand town of Cambridge – literally and figuratively – but for Ben Rimene and Lee Jones, life in the two places has plenty of similarities.
The pair grew up down the road from each other in Cambridge and played school and club rugby together in New Zealand before eventually going into battle for Hong Kong alongside each other.
They lived together at university in Hamilton and are still housemates in Hong Kong, with Friday marking the beginning of yet another quest to earn Hong Kong a spot on the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series.
“We started going to primary school together. We lived five minutes walk from each other, I’d walk to his house and pick him up and we’d walk to school together when we were maybe nine or 10,” Jones said.
Jones, 31, first came to Hong Kong in 2007 and debuted for Hong Kong before 32-year-old fly half Rimene, who arrived here in 2009, with the lifelong friends first playing on the same Hong Kong team during the 2012 Asia Rugby Sevens Series.
They played in the 2013 Sevens World Cup together and have since played in the same Hong Kong 15s team many times, adding to the years of experience built representing Cambridge High School, Hautapu and Societe Generale Valley.
“In 15s we play 10 and 12 so it’s pretty natural for us,” Jones said. “You know each other’s mannerisms, you start to get like that with everybody in the team but probably just more so for us. If he’s doing something, I can read what he is going to do and play off that.”
Both had a stint playing in England before coming to Hong Kong, one of the few times they were apart.
“We always room together, we tend to be around each other outside of the hotel as well,” Rimene said. “We’ve got similar interests. A lot of people form our home town, they see us on the TV or something and they are all quite happy to send you a message to congratulate you or support you.”
The people back in Cambridge have followed the pair every step of the way, with their exploits inspiring teammate Ryan Meacheam – who grew up 25 minutes from Cambridge and played representative rugby with Jones – to try his hand in Hong Kong.
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“You come from this small farming town where it is just sort of rugby and work, there’s no traffic lights in the town so that says enough about it,” Jones said.
“They see us travelling around the world and I think they realise there are more opportunities potentially overseas for guys that are not quite good enough in New Zealand.”
And the connection between Rimene and Jones even has one more link, with the two teaming up to run Lan Kwai Fong gym Evolve Personal Training Studio.
It is a thriving little business, although commitments at the gym coupled with rugby mean the pair are rarely home.
“My fiancee lives with us, but we are never home,” Jones said. “We have the gym together as well, so we literally get home at 9 o’clock every night and get up quite early so we just sleep at home.”