Former Connacht prop Brett Wilkinson looking to impart knowledge gained from Irish rugby legends in HKCC role
The 33-year-old is looking to draw on experience of years at the top end of the game ahead of the Hong Kong Premiership’s season-opening Super Saturday
He comes armed with years of experience working alongside the likes of Irish rugby greats Paul O’Connell and Brian O’Driscoll and new HKCC coach Brett Wilkinson is ready to make his mark in Hong Kong.
Wilkinson, who is from South Africa, played 183 games for Connacht in the Pro 14 and is looking forward to leading his new side for the first time when they take on Bloomberg HK Scottish in the opening round of the Hong Kong Premiership on Saturday.
“It’s a new challenge for me, something completely new,” said 33-year-old, who replaces Kevin West at HKCC. “It’s going to take a bit of time to get to know all the systems and get to know my players.”
Signed as a project player while at the University of Cape Town, Wilkinson went on to play for Ireland A and spent years training with the national team.
“It’s frustrating in a way that I didn’t get capped, I played in an uncapped game against the Barbarians in 2012 and from that I made the tour to New Zealand but didn’t get a run,” he said.
“Although I didn’t get a full cap, I was always involved in Six Nations training camps and that sort of thing.
“The likes of Paul O’Connell, Brian O’Driscoll and Ronan O’Gara would just churn out performances week in, week out.
“When you’re in that environment and you see how they train, they train harder than anyone. They would always be doing extras.”
Wilkinson is looking to use his knowledge to drive a rebuilding HKCC back up the Premiership table and will likely work with the Hong Kong national side down the track.
“I’m looking to learn, grow and better myself, and get out of my comfort zone,” Wilkinson said.
“The goal is to get involved at national level and the opportunity to work with top quality coaches within the union [was a motivation behind the move to Hong Kong]. Hopefully I can pass my knowledge on as well.”
Wilkinson went straight into coaching when his playing career ended due to a ligament injury in his neck and comes to Hong Kong after leading Buccaneers RFC in the top division of the All-Ireland League.
He says he has no regrets about leaving South Africa to ply his trade in the country he now calls his second home.
“Representing Ireland was a proud moment, singing the Irish national anthem and realising I had come so far from Cape Town,” he said.
“The holy grail of European rugby is the Champions Cup so playing in that was great, we had to play Sarries [English powerhouses Saracens] away and if we won that we would have gone through to a quarter-final.”
A big fan of the revamped Top 14 that is featuring South African teams for the first time this season, Wilkinson just wishes their inclusion had come about a few years earlier: “It would have been really exciting to go home and play some rugby, my parents house is an hour away from Port Elizabeth where the Kings are playing.”
While he admits Saturday’s clash with Scottish is a step into the unknown, Wilkinson is positive about HKCC’s chances this year now that a disjointed 2016-17 campaign that saw coach Deacon Manu stand down on the eve of the season is behind them.
There has been plenty of player turnover, with star full back James Love, fly half Jason Kjestrup and Hong Kong veterans Alex and Tom McQueen among the outs.
Coming in are hooker Jak Lam from the Exeter Chiefs academy, Scottish midfielder Gair Currie, former Canterbury Sevens captain Lawrence Babe and the versatile Luke van der Smit, who has Currie Cup experience.
“To be honest, because I’m new I don’t know much about Scottish but chatting to players I’ve got a good bit of feedback,” he said.
“For me, it’s about concentrating on us and getting ourselves right, rather than someone else for this first game.”
Other matches on the season-opening Super Saturday at King’s Park see Societe Generale Valley meet Borrelli Walsh USRC Tigers and Natixis HKFC lock horns with Kowloon.