Digesting Hong Kong’s repechage with a dose of youthful wonder and Global Rapid Rugby intrigue

  • After losing 27-10 to Canada and failing to qualify for the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan, where does Hong Kong’s rugby programme go from here?
  • There’s a youth movement bubbling within the team, and Global Rapid Rugby, which could prove fruitful for player development
PUBLISHED : Monday, 26 November, 2018, 7:46am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 27 November, 2018, 3:07pm

Reconciling with failure is never easy. The face in the mirror is relentless, and blame can only go inward to set one down a path of eventual growth.

The Hong Kong Rugby Union has some difficult questions to ask itself, but no one is beating themselves up more than the coaches, players and staff who made the trip to Marseille.

Everyone knows what transpired; now the question is, where does the programme, which came within striking distance of reaching the coveted Rugby World Cup finals, go from here? How do they reconcile with Hong Kong’s rugby community, who may be feeling like another serving of disappointment is calcifying their sense of apathy?

Rugby World Cup dream is over: Brave Hong Kong fall to Canada in repechage do-or-die

The horizon is not dark, as Hong Kong’s repechage was lined with silver, and, if properly utilised, could act as a rock bed venturing forward.

Canada fielded an older squad and made only a handful of substitutions during the repechage, while Hong Kong rotated their 30-man roster throughout their three games, showing there is depth to be cultivated.

Five players got their first cap in Marseille, and the 20-somethings littered through the ranks all got ample playing time on the big stage. The HKRU has two key aspects it can turn its focus towards to make sure the programme does not atrophy after this crushing defeat.

Max Denmark, still a teenager, scored the team’s first try of the tournament. He is a physical specimen, and will only gain more weight and experience to throw around the pitch. His recent outstanding play for the sevens squad is a testament to his versatility and athleticism.

Fin Field, ferocious at second row as he went toe-to-toe with Canada’s burly, veteran forwards, is only 23. Conor Hartley, 26, scored Hong Kong’s only try in the final game, hurtling his body over the line with no regard for safety.

Rugby World Cup Repechage 2019: Hong Kong’s ‘dream is still alive’ heading into Canada match

Twenty-four-year-old Michael Parfitt, who joined his older brother Jack, looks to be in good hands as he cuts his teeth with the national team. Centre Ben Axten-Burrett, who tasted some of his first national action squaring off against Canadian superstar DTH van der Merwe, is 26.

The list of youth who gained invaluable experience in France is lengthy: hooker Alexander Post and number seven Mike Coverdale are 23 while prop Ben Higgins is 26. This isn’t even mentioning the young players already capped who did not make the trip to Europe, which includes Callum McFeat Smith (22) and Pierce MacKinlay-West (21).

Whether they’re going to be sevens stalwarts or suit up for the 15s, the stable of young thoroughbreds is bustling with activity – and now another avenue has presented itself to get these players some more battle scars.

Andrew Forrest’s Global Rapid Rugby series, which will feature the South China Tigers and kicks off in February, is yet another venue for Hong Kong’s next wave of players to gain more high-level experience under the bright lights of the bigger stages.

Captain James Cunningham was understandably not in the mood to talk about the mining magnate’s new tour after the loss to Canada, but it will soon dominate Hong Kong’s thinking.

The series will feature teams from rugby hotbeds including Fiji, Australia, Samoa and Tonga. Forrest has an ambitious goal of attracting “20 of the top 100” best players in the world, and even if he falls short, it is everyone’s gain as he shoots for the moon.

World Rugby has sanctioned the event, adding an extra level of prestige, and there are rumours All Blacks great Dan Carter is mulling signing on the dotted line, as well as former Wallaby Matt Giteau.

Enter the South China Tigers, Hong Kong’s new team in Andrew Forrest’s Global Rapid Rugby series

While it may not be the bright lights of Tokyo Stadium, or a once-in-a-lifetime chance to face New Zealand and the Springboks, it could prove to be a sufficient consolation prize.

Failure is the first step towards growth and to be a true fan means standing by your team, especially through its darkest moments.