Schools’ and colts’ competitions must join forces in junior rugby overhaul, says Dai Rees as Hong Kong come last in World Rugby U20 Trophy
Chief rugby operations officer says the HKRU are working to restructure domestic youth leagues to ensure greater chance of success in the future
Hong Kong Rugby Union chief rugby operations officer Dai Rees says Hong Kong’s last-place finish in the World Rugby U20 Trophy in Uruguay is not disappointing, but indicates the state of the territory’s development structures.
Hong Kong were belted 38-0 by Canada in the play-off for seventh place on Sunday night to finish one place lower than last year.
According to Rees, it is time for the separate secondary schools’ and colts’ competitions to come together to ensure a higher standard of domestic junior rugby.
“The result is not disappointing to be honest, it just reflects where the development structures are in Hong Kong,” Rees said.
“The week in, week out competition from the age of 15 that you get in Wales, England, New Zealand, we just don’t get it.”
“We’re working hard with the schools and the colts’ committee to restructure our domestic competition to prepare these guys for this next level of rugby.”
As it stands, the secondary schools’ and colts’ competitions run at basically the same time in the lead up to Christmas, with the schools’ competition played during the week and the colts’ fixtures taking place on Sundays.
With some players playing in both competitions, much of Hong Kong’s best young talent is training three or four times a week and playing twice.
According to Rees, this sees the players spending too much time on game preparation and not enough on personal development, such as skills and conditioning, with the standard of competition diluted as a result.
“We haven’t got critical mass in Hong Kong and we need to try and maximise our development structures,” he said.
8 Hong Kong
— U.R.U. (@RugbyUruguay) September 10, 2017
“The key element is that the colts and schools need to come together so there is basically one system managing those players and therefore we will have the best players in the one competition.
“At the moment players are doubling up. Things are moving in the right direction [and] that’s the next bit of the puzzle.”
There were some positives in Uruguay for Andy Hall’s side despite a winless campaign, with a seven-point loss to Portugal – who went on to lose 14-3 to Japan in a final cut short by lightning – a highlight.
“We came very close to beating the eventual finalists but what our system doesn’t do in Hong Kong, it doesn’t give players at 15, 16, 17, 18 years of age the robust week in, week out competition that they need to perform at the next level,” Rees said.
“The trend tends to be that the first time we get these players together as a group is actually when we land in the country of the competition.
“We always have our best performance in game two or game three and it came in game two against Portugal. Inevitably, when we put in a performance like that against one of the top teams, we struggle in the next game on a four-day turnaround.”
To Hong Kong’s credit, they did dig deep against Canada on Sunday night after trailing 26-0 at half-time and Hall’s charges stemmed the flow somewhat against their powerful opponents.
“We didn’t get a win and that’s disappointing and something that we need to analyse and reflect on, but it’s been a great tournament and a great campaign,” Hong Kong captain Mark Coebergh said.
“We played better than we did last year, particularly in the pool stages, and that is something we can build on for next year’s campaign.”