Inspiring Hong Kong’s next generation of stars still comes first for heartbeat of local rugby Salom Yiu
The 29-year-old says he’s never considered leaving and earmarks Cado Lee as the next face of the game here
He’s the heartbeat of Hong Kong rugby and Salom Yiu Kam-shing’s impact on the sport extends well beyond his extensive on-field resume, with the 29-year-old taking great pride in inspiring the next generation.
He’s often been subject to rumours of his playing future – good performances inevitably attract attention from outside eyes – but the Tai Po native says staying put has been a no-brainer.
“One big thing is that I started here so I’m happy to finish here,” said the 29-year-old after teaching a rugby seminar at Queen Elizabeth School Old Student’s Association Primary School in Tin Shui Wai this month.
“The coaches told me that a lot of people decided to go to Japan or other countries. Too many people left, but I like my teammates – they gave me a reason to stay.”
After years as the unchanging face of local Hong Kong rugby, Yiu has earmarked 25-year-old Cado Lee Ka-to, currently playing in Japan, as his eventual successor as he grows increasingly weary in the role.
“I’m happy to have that role but it’s so tiring being [one of] the only ones,” he said. “They always say, ‘Let’s go, Salom, we’re doing a video, media, everything … because you’re the local, man’.
“I think [Cado will] come back, he can come up to be the senior now; he can handle it. I’m just so happy to have more locals playing after me.”
As one of only a handful of local Hong Kong members of the national squad, Yiu feels the responsibility to engage the new generation of rugby players and ensure they learn the game much earlier than he did.
“I started quite late at 18,” said Yiu. “The first time I touched a rugby ball was during a summer course. I had watched the sevens for the first time and it looked exciting; everyone was so fast and strong.
“It looked so simple – just catch and run to the space … that was it. I realised how hard it was after I joined. But it’s so enjoyable when you feel success, when you help your team or score a try. That pushes me.”
Yiu was joined in Tin Shui Wai by women’s team member Candy Cheng Tsz-ting as part of the HSBC Try Rugby programme launched this year – a partnership with the HKRU and the Education University of Hong Kong to introduce up to 50,000 primary school students to the sport.
“They were very energetic and I was impressed with their discipline,” said 32-year-old Cheng. “I started at 15 but could have started much earlier. At least these students are introduced to it.
Hong Kong Rugby Union chairman Pieter Schats predicts seismic shift as HSBC Try Rugby programme launches
“I was born and raised in Hong Kong, and I’m quite lucky that women’s rugby is developing rapidly in Asia and in the world – to be in the wave.
“The most challenging part is how these boys and girls keep it up in secondary school. There is a high academic workload in Hong Kong, so it’s about how they get the balance right.
“Kids at that age need someone to inspire them and I hope I can be one of these people. You can be an athlete even if you’re a woman, no matter what the sport is.”
Yiu was equally as invigorated by the big rugby push, the wheels of which were in motion even before the Hong Kong Sevens in April, where 112 mini and youth rugby games were organised – that’s 2,500 children running around with an oval ball.
The HKRU targets 240 schools by 2019. Add that to the 120 secondary schools already familiar with the game and the union has got a healthy number indeed.
“I was pleasantly surprised to see primary schools doing rugby sessions,” Yiu said. “I was already happy when they introduced it at secondary level.
“Why do New Zealand and Fiji have such strong teams? Because they start young. If we teach them early, we’ll become stronger in the future.
“That’s why I try my best to teach younger players when I have time,” Yiu added modestly. “I’m local as well and if I show them how successful you can become, it gives them confidence to join the sport.”
Rugby pulling its weight as Hong Kong slowly but surely wakes up to the role of sport in a balanced education
Following a heartbreaking loss to Russia in the Cup of Nations in November, Yiu echoed coach Leigh Jones’ aspirations of qualifying for next year’s World Cup.
But he has a target of his own – perhaps the perfect swansong for an unparalleled career in Hong Kong rugby: “My dream was to get into the Olympics and my plan is to retire after that.”