Blow for Hong Kong professionals

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 06 October, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 06 October, 2009, 12:00am

The ambitious plan to turn the game wholly professional by offering full-time contracts to national squad players has been scrapped by the Hong Kong Rugby Football Union.

Four players were given full-time playing contracts last September - sevens stars Rowan Varty, Keith Robertson, Mark Wright and Alex Ng Wai-shing, a product of the rugby academy who was offered a junior contract.

Yet just one year after the scheme was announced, the union has decided to jettison the plan, saying that only a handful of players benefited and not the rugby community at large.

The union said that the decision had nothing to do with the economic downturn or cost-cutting measures.

A union statement said: 'It was felt the scheme was not achieving the development objectives that were set for the rugby community as a whole, particularly as it was benefiting a relatively small number of players.

'Going forward, it was decided that the HKRFU should invest more in widespread development schemes rather than just individual players.

None of the senior players were available for comment yesterday. Varty is out of town, Robertson is in hospital with a broken nose - incurred during last Saturday's opening round in league competition - and Wright also could not be contacted.

The trio, who all featured prominently for Hong Kong at both sevens and 15s last season, were expected to be the vanguard of full-time players in Hong Kong contracted to the union. They put on hold their working careers to play full-time and two were seconded by the union to clubs in England.

Varty delayed becoming a fully fledged lawyer and joined London Irish, while Wright was sent to Leicester.

However, the plan, the brainwave of former union head of performance Ivan Torpey, had apparently not met favour with head coach Dai Rees.

At the inception of this programme, Torpey said: 'They are the first of what we hope will eventually be a bigger group of players.

'I believe this programme has the scope to expand ... rugby is not part of the elite sport system at the Hong Kong Sports Institute. One day we hope to get there, but until then we have to provide a setting for our young players and provide them with a path.'

After reviewing the pilot scheme, the union felt it was better to invest in development-orientated programmes, such as ensuring that all the First Division clubs had player-coaches who are partial employees of the union.

'The HKRFU is committed to continuing development of the former high-performance players scheme. The HP players are continuing to receive support and encouragement from us,' the statement said.

Wright has joined the union as the club development coach for Hong Kong Football Club. Hong Kong front-rower Ng had a very successful experience with the University of Queensland, both on and off the field, and the union is now looking at ways to support his rugby development.

'The HKRFU remains fully committed to continuing to invest in the development of elite players and are now examining new ways that would benefit a greater number of players within the rugby community.'