A whole new world: former England international Olly Barkley joins Kowloon coaching staff for start of Hong Kong Premiership campaign
The 34-year-old, who played 23 tests for the reigning Six Nations champions, is a friend of coach James Scaysbrook after the pair played together at Bath
From sharing a room with him in Bath to learning to drive in the Kowloon coach’s Beetle, former England international Olly Barkley has come to trust James Scaysbrook with his life.
So when Scaysbrook offered Barkley a player-coach role in Hong Kong – a city he had never been to – the decision was an easy one.
“I have known Scays for a long time and we have always got on very well and always had similar thoughts on the game,” Barkley said.
“We both stayed in a bedroom with two single beds when we first arrived at Bath as 18-year-olds and he actually taught me to drive.”
After meeting during their time in the England under 18s, the pair played together at Bath – where Barkley played the majority of his English Premiership rugby – for eight years.
The opportunity to again team up with his old friend made the move to Hong Kong a no brainer for Barkley.
“I thought ‘why not’ while I’ve got the opportunity to do it and coach with a really good mate and get stuck into a city and a competition that’s different from anything at home,” Barkley said.
Barkley, a flyhalf who played 23 tests for England, has arrived at Kowloon at an exciting time, with the club celebrating their 40th anniversary this season and also undergoing a significant rebuild.
“Any anniversary for any club is a big thing,” he said.
“I remember I was involved in a few big ones at Bath when I was there and it brings together the old boys and the new boys, so I’m sure there will be a party here.”
Barkley admits he is intrigued by a Premiership in which every team qualifies for the finals – “essentially you pretty much have four months of warm-up games” – and says he is looking forward to making his mark on the side.
“I’ve picked apart our attack quite a bit and tried to instigate some changes which will take a while to settle in,” he said.
“A lot of it is about trusting me and the systems that I’m trying to put in place. There is a good group of lads and there is some talent in there so hopefully we should go okay.”
The 34-year-old’s signature is a major coup for Kowloon in a season where anniversary celebrations will ensure a repeat of last year’s bottom place finish will not cut it.
A creative and skilful player with a lethal kick, Barkley started in three games for England at the 2007 World Cup but found himself in and out of the national side.
He will fill the role of backs coach at Kowloon vacated by the departing Mark McMillan, but is as yet unsure what his playing responsibilities will look like.
“At the moment I haven’t done anything for four or five weeks training wise so I’ll probably give myself a couple of months to get some sort of health back,” he said.
“We’ve got a very good young 10 in Jack [Neville] so I wouldn’t want to put myself in and halt Jack’s development, it’s not really about me anymore. I’m there to help out when I need to with injuries and stuff like that.”
Barkley, who most recently played for London Welsh in England’s second division, is also doing some consultancy work with the Hong Kong Rugby Union as a specialist kicking coach.
He left behind a property development business in London and is unsure of how long his stay will be.
A pending business development could see him return home as soon as March, but he is determined to make the most of his new home while he can.
“I don’t have too many ties at the moment and everything I’ve got at home is being looked after by colleagues or family,” he said.
“It’s enabling me to be over here pretty freely. I want to try and get out into Asia as much as I possibly can, it is so far away from us in England.”
For Scaysbrook, having a player and coach of the ilk of Barkley at his disposal is a welcome relief after a tough 2015-16 season.
“The big thing is obviously the rugby experience and Olly will really help out our attack and our backs and really try and develop them,” Scaysbrook said.
“Him coming in will allow me to focus more on the defensive side of things and the contact area.”