Hong Kong Rugby Union: Fin Field and the national team’s youth movement
- With the HKRU now forced to play the long game waiting on the potentially expanded 2023 Rugby World Cup in France, the mantle now falls to the youth
- Fin Field and company represent a new wave of players who will write the next chapter of Hong Kong rugby’s history
As much as Fin Field travels – England, Scotland, China, Africa, North Korea – his heart remains in one place.
“You always feel like you’re going away,” said the 23-year-old Hong Kong native. “So Hong Kong always feels like coming back home to me.”
Field, who plays lock for the Hong Kong Football Club in the men’s rugby premiership league, has also been a national team member since 2016 with the Hong Kong Rugby Union.
The towering Field, who stands almost 200 cms and weighs 108 kgs, represents part of the future of rugby for Hong Kong.
After missing out on next year’s World Cup in Japan, Hong Kong will now have to wait until the 2023 Rugby World Cup in France, which could feature an expanded format with 24 teams instead of the usual 20, to try to take the national programme to the next level.
Luckily, Hong Kong’s national 15s and sevens squads have a burgeoning youth movement.
Along with Field, the national team and the Elite Rugby Programme feature a stable of next-generation talent who are ready to take centre stage: Max Denmark (19), Raef Morrison (23), Conor Hartley (26), Michael Parfitt (24), Ben Axten-Burrett (26), Mike Coverdale (23), Ben Higgins (26), Callum McFeat Smith (22), Pierce MacKinlay-West (21), Russell Webb (24) and James Christie (22).
Sarah Rees, the Athlete Lifestyle Support manager for the HKRU, said they take a very specific approach when youngsters join the national programme. She said she gets to know as much about them as she can to help prepare them for life as a professional athlete, which includes things like who they live with, their relationship status, what they do in their spare time, and of course, where they might head after rugby.
“This [is designed] to make their transition out of rugby so much easier for them, particularly if they are leaving through injury or non-selection.”
Rees added there is also funding available for full-time players to complete schooling which will help set them up career wise after rugby is over.
Much like many of these players, Field has come up into the national programme with an impressive pedigree: he played for Hong Kong U20s team for three years which included qualifying for two junior world championships in 2012 and 2015.
Field, who has studied abroad in places like Beijing, Edinburgh and Oundle, England, which is a few hours north of London for boarding school, said a lot of his friends and fellow players who were born in the city are finding themselves returning.
Hong Kong still offers first-rate work opportunities in a variety of sectors during tumultuous international economic times overseas and especially in Europe, and the Hong Kong Rugby Union also has close to 30 full-time professionals on its roster.
Field said he regularly clashes on the pitch with some of his best mates, but then finds himself having pints with them afterwards.
“It’s just such a great group. You play hard against each other on the field, and you give a bit of chatter and take the p*** out of each other, but after the game you’re hanging out with them. So it says a lot about the community here.”
Growing up, Field moved away from Hong Kong when he was 10 to Shanghai, so the family could be closer to his father, Rick, who worked in China. But the move only lasted for three years, and Field also spent a substantial portion of his youth at boarding school in Oundle.
He said part of his love for Hong Kong is because during his formative years, he usually returned to Hong Kong for holidays.
“So I’ve just always had this natural association with Hong Kong being fun and a great place to be, and meeting back up with all my mates.”
Rick Field, who also suited up for the national team in the late ’80s and early ’90s, also took Field to North Korea on a cricket tour when he was 12, flying in on an old Russian military plane.
He said it was a remarkably odd experience in retrospect, given he was so young when he went and could not full comprehend the political weight of travelling to such a country.
“There were some very obvious images that I can still remember and can now understand fully. We were out in the main square along the riverbank and there was a pellet gun kiosk, so you had to shoot at these targets and the targets were American soldiers.”
Field also has an eclectic and interesting resume for such a youngster. He has travelled to Africa, did a solo charity bike ride from Chengdu to Hong Kong unsupported, raising HK$122,500 in the process for the Animals Asia Foundation.
He also worked in a nursery in Scotland, speaks Mandarin, is working on his Cantonese and has some Spanish language experience from school.
“I just watched the first episode of season two of Narcos so that is helping a bit. Trying to string a few sentences together, poorly of course.”
Oh, and he is also a keen guitar player.
Field, who studied Chinese in university in Edinburgh, where he received his master’s degree with honours, is looking to zero in his many talents and pursuits in the future.
Right now he is focused on rugby for the moment, but is looking at a career in accounting, based somewhere in East Asia. Rees said Field is unique when it comes to the HKRU, as he is the only player she’s requested one-on-on Mandarin tuition for.
“He studied this at university and is very much aware that this will help set him apart from other Western applicants when looking for a career either alongside rugby, or when his playing days are over.
Of course, there’s a solid chance Field, who seems to have no end of travelling in sight, will end up back where he started.
“Hong Kong’s always going to be home for me.”