Unlike Ol' Blue Eyes, Paul Dingley has no regrets as he looks back on a rugby career spanning almost two decades, the last 10 years with Hong Kong. 'I have had a fantastic time playing for Hong Kong,' he says. A powerhouse number eight, Dingley, quit from all forms of rugby last week. His announcement came a couple of days after Hong Kong had emerged as the best Asian team at the Singapore leg of the IRB Sevens. Dingley had been expected to give up sevens rugby, but he went one step further and said he was hanging up his boots permanently. 'This is it. I have retired from everything, even local club rugby. I have had a good run, but it is time to step aside and move on,' said Dingley. At 35, his shelf life at the top tier had just about expired. But still, it will be strange to see a Hong Kong team on the paddock without him. After 10 years of having his assuring and solid presence in the back row, Hong Kong will quickly need to find a replacement if they are to remain amongst the top tier of Asian nations in XVs rugby. The situation is especially urgent as they prepare to play in the preliminary round of the 2007 World Cup qualifying campaign next month. 'Paul has been a huge driving force for us. His commitment on the field has always been 100 per cent and he leaves a huge hole in the back row,' says head coach Ivan Torpey. A player in the mould of all classic number eights, Dingley was lethal from close range - he made the five-metre attacking scrum his signature scoring platform. Apart from being a great finisher, his other biggest asset was his cover tackling. His vision and intuitive style turned defence into a work of art and proved to be the bane of opponents. South African Dingley began his XVs career for Hong Kong playing as a flanker - replacing his elder brother Jon on the blindside in the second half of the second international against Fiji back in 1996. Fiji had hammered Hong Kong 64-11 a few days earlier. But the British territory, as it was then, came back strongly in the second outing and held their own before losing 37-16. A pony-tailed New Zealander, Duane Davis, was at number eight. Dingley would soon make it his position. 'I came to Hong Kong in 1996 on my brother's insistence,' says Dingley. 'I was in the process of going to play rugby in the United States, and when I told my brother what I was up to, he told me to come to Hong Kong first. 'I arrived here with a pair of boots and a suitcase thinking I'd be here for a season or two. But Hong Kong is a great place to meet people and before long, I'd met all my brother's mates and felt right at home.' Dingley had first met his brother's mates in 1994, back home in Durban, when the Hong Kong squad, coached by George Simpkin, undertook an ambitious tour of South Africa and Namibia as part of their build-up to the 1995 World Cup qualifying campaign. Covering that tour for the Post, I met the younger Dingley for the first time, when the team were treated to a meal at his parent's home on the Durban beachfront. Jon spoke highly of his younger sibling, who was playing top rugby in Durban. The thought never crossed my mind that I had just met the future Hong Kong number eight. But Hong Kong lured Dingley, as it has many other players. And with Hong Kong playing in the Pac Rim competition at the time (1997) - against second- and third-tier rugby nations like Canada, the United States and Japan - Dingley had no hesitation in staying on. 'Looking back, I think that was the most exciting time of my career. Playing in the Pac Rim competition, alongside some very good players, was just superb. Winning against sides like the US and Japan was great. We had a very competitive side then. But once Hong Kong left the Pac Rim, things haven't been easy,' Dingley said. In 1998, the Hong Kong Rugby Football Union decided that the way forward was to develop the game from the grassroots, stop the 'importation' of players, and pull out of the Pac Rim. For one brief period in time, Hong Kong rugby had had big ideas. But the union's decision to drop out of the Pac Rim, shut the door firmly on any prospects of the SAR being a venue for players hoping to make it big on the international scene. Hong Kong went back to its traditional ties with Asia. Thankfully, by then Paul Dingley was qualified to play for Hong Kong under the International Rugby Board's three-year residency guideline - the Pac Rim had no such eligibility issue. By then turning out for Valley, Dingley also had another more important reason for staying on. Dingley relates: 'A year or so after I came here, I met my wife Louise - and the rest is history. I've now got two daughters, Natasha who is three years old, and Juliette, who is 18 months old. A third baby is due in six weeks, and this time we decided not to find out if it is a boy or a girl. And I've also got a Jack Russell.' From 1999, Hong Kong was back playing against Asian opposition. And Dingley was in the thick of it. On the domestic front, he was a key figure as Valley dominated all and sundry. On the international scene, he had also made his mark at sevens, playing his first Hong Kong Sevens in 1998. 'I missed the 1997 World Cup when it was held here as I was not eligible. But I played at the 2001 World Cup in Argentina and last month's event. It was most memorable as I never thought I would make the team. It was fantastic being part of the World Cup in front of the Hong Kong fans,' he says. 'Having played at the World Cup in Hong Kong, it was just right that I had to retire. It was a good note to finish on. I've had a brilliant run. For the last nine years, rugby has been a huge part of my life but now it is time to hang up the boots. 'I will miss all of this. And I'm sure to have a lot of free time. Maybe I will play more golf now,' he laughs. The managing director of RHK Design Limited - a commercial interior design firm - Dingley says Hong Kong will continue to be his home. And this is to local rugby's benefit as he will continue to be involved with the senior team, helping out Torpey with the forwards. Sinatra might have had a few regrets. But looking back, Dingley is insistent that he would not have changed anything in his life, and can proudly say 'I did it my way'. Hong Kong rugby will be ever grateful for that.