Chinese trailblazer Alex Ng puts his rugby skills to the test against Japan
First cap against formidable Asian champions is a career highlight for 28-year-old prop
Alex Ng Wai-shing’s sporting journey has taken him from a soccer-playing schoolboy to the front row of the Hong Kong rugby team, becoming Hong Kong’s most capped Chinese player along the way.
On Saturday, Ng will record another milestone, breaking the record for games played since the 1997 handover to China, in the Asia Rugby Championship against Japan in Tokyo.
It is a massive achievement for the bustling prop and has coach Leigh Jones excited.
“I think it’s great for rugby and great for Chinese rugby in Hong Kong,” Jones said.
It will be Ng’s 42nd match, taking him past Pete Spizzerri for the most since ’97, with Dave Lewis’ overall benchmark of 55 caps next in his sights.
Not bad for a guy who only found himself in a rugby jersey by chance – plucked from his school soccer team in Scotland to make up the numbers.
Ng was surprised to learn of his impending milestone and it is still sinking in for the 28-year-old.
“The team culture, the physicality, that’s why I play,” he said. “I really enjoy playing for Hong Kong and I am always learning.”
After playing on a wing during his final year of high school, Ng was quickly transformed into a prop after returning to Hong Kong as an 18-year-old, because he “was bigger than everyone else” his age.
He played his first test against Tunisia in 2008.
One of only a handful of Hong Kong-born Chinese in the squad, Ng has been a role model for aspiring youngsters during his stint at the top level.
“Enjoy the rugby and train hard. Train like every session is your last,” he said.
Ng’s first cap against Japan is a career highlight and the quest to get closer to the Brave Blossoms is a continued source of motivation.
With nearly a decade of experience in the national set-up, he has seen the gap close significantly and is confident it will continue to do so, especially now that the elite rugby programme is in place.
“When I first played against Japan eight or nine years ago they would put probably 90 or 100 points on us,” he said.
“The gap is getting smaller and smaller and we can actually contest physically.”
Hong Kong will take a markedly different side into this weekend’s match against the arch-enemy, with Jones making 10 changes to the starting 15 from the side’s last outing against South Korea two weeks ago, won 34-27 thanks to a late Ben Rimene try.
Tyler Spitz, Ed Rolston, Matt Lamming, Ben Higgins and Rowan Varty will be seen for the first time in the series.
“We are certainly not making change for change’s sake,” Jones said. “We think can enhance the squad and set us up well for the last two games.
“This is probably the first time we have been able to do that, to generate this level of competition internally.”
Jones has been focusing heavily on the set piece and, after a poor showing against Japan in their first ARC match, Hong Kong showed some improvement against South Korea.
“We need to carry on with that momentum, with that improvement, and take it into the Japan game,” he said.
Hong Kong’s women take on Japan in the final match of their ARC campaign, with coach Jo Hull naming a similar squad to recent outings against Japan and Singapore.
“We’ve talked about improving every time and that’s an absolute must,” Hull said.
“The result is important but the most important thing is that we improve on performances in some key specific areas that we’ve identified against Japan.”