How Hong Kong captain Nick Hewson became a rugby thoroughbred
Kiwi’s connection in horse racing runs deep as does his rugby roots
When Hong Kong captain Nick Hewson starts talking about the likes of Might and Power and Ethereal, it quickly becomes clear his background in thoroughbreds is more than just a bush hobby.
From a family of horse lovers, Hewson spent school holidays and any other chance he got during his teenage years working on high-profile racehorse studs in New Zealand.
Born and bred in Taranaki in the North Island – where his parents, Graeme and Gwenda, run a dairy farm and are heavily involved in horses – working on studs became Hewson’s full-time job before he moved to Hong Kong.
The 32-year-old has maintained his keen interest from a distance and still breeds horses to sell in partnership with his parents, as well as dabbling in racehorse ownership.
Hewson has had one winner as an owner, a gelding named Vronskii he describes as “very slow”, but it is his experiences with Melbourne Cup winners Might and Power (1997) and Ethereal (2001) that are most intriguing.
“When Might and Power won the Melbourne Cup I was working at Windsor Park Stud [in Cambridge],” Hewson said.
“There was a buzz around the stud because they had bred and reared him. I have worked hands on with Ethereal. When Ethereal retired she was at Pencarrow Stud [in Waikato] and I did quite a lot with her first foal.”
Hewson’s involvement in the Hong Kong racing scene has been limited to attending races, although he is keeping an eye out for an unraced foal he sold to Hong Kong owners.
His passion for horses went hand in hand with his love for rugby growing up, with his rugby journey seeing him represent Waikato at under-19 level in a side that featured future All Blacks Richard Kahui, Brendon Leonard and Aled De Malmanche.
He then played senior rugby for Hautapu, getting a “great insight into rugby” before Valley RFC came calling and Hewson found himself in Hong Kong as a 21-year-old in 2005.
It has been an amazing 11 years from a rugby perspective for Hewson, with eight championships for Valley, a Hong Kong debut against Germany in 2009 and finally the honour of captaining his adopted home.
Hewson is now the general manager of Valley, something that ties in perfectly with his near-completed business management course through Anglia Ruskin University in the UK.
“It’s an amazing club really,” he said. “It’s got nothing as far as facilities go but has an unbelievable culture. We’ve got a great culture of hard work and winning.”
Hewson has been a mainstay in the Hong Kong 15s forward line since his debut and rates overseas wins against Kazakhstan and South Korea as highlights.
Playing in front of a full house at the Hong Kong Sevens during his time in the sevens side was also a buzz.
A natural born leader, Hewson has let his actions do the talking on the field since taking over the 15s captaincy in late 2013.
“It is a privilege and an honour and it’s something that I don’t take for granted,” he said.
The flanker also feels blessed to have been one of the inaugural members of the recently implemented elite rugby programme that is transforming Hong Kong rugby.
“You talk to some of the old boys and they would have taken the opportunity with both hands,” he said.
“There’s a lot of guys that used to play for Hong Kong and you do think, wow, I am in a lucky position.”
It’s not been all rugby for the unassuming Hewson, either, with life taking a turn off the field soon after he made the move to Hong Kong.
After meeting his future wife Claire – a South African - in Bali in 2005, the pair stayed in touch “despite the time difference”, before Claire eventually moved to Hong Kong.
They married in Cape Town in 2009.
The pair now has six-month-old twins, Emily and Jacob, and Hewson admits that while it hasn’t changed his rugby approach, it helps him switch off away from the game.
“It’s a big game changer,” he said. “There is nothing quite like relaxing and having fun with your kids. They are pretty easy kids really. Most new parents complain about the sleep and stuff like that, but they are great sleepers.”
Hewson is confident his body is in good enough shape to ensure he is around “when” Hong Kong qualify for the 2019 World Cup.
“I wouldn’t mind doing a bit of higher-end coaching, but I’ve got a background in farming as well,” Hewson said.
He is hoping to tie his business management degree into the thoroughbred industry at some point; whether he will ever make the move back to the family farm remains to be seen.
“Maybe one day,” Hewson said.
“It didn’t really motivate me early on, it was just the early starts. Now that I’ve got two kids I guess that might be a bit more motivation.”