HKRU Premiership

Chiefs’ players in for the long haul as they bring a taste of the All Blacks’ winning mentality to Hong Kong rugby

New Zealanders Turoa Stephens, Josh Dowsing and Nathan de Thierry making their presence felt after long-term commitment

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 28 September, 2017, 1:57pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 28 September, 2017, 11:06pm

They grew up dreaming of playing for the All Blacks but now Turoa Stephens, Josh Dowsing and Nathan de Thierry are determined to do their bit in driving Hong Kong rugby forward.

After coming to Hong Kong in November last year with two others as part of the Hong Kong Rugby Union’s partnership with the Waikato Chiefs, the three New Zealanders have since signed three-year contracts with the union.

According to HKRU chief rugby operations officer Dai Rees, the unique skills they bring are having an impact in the elite rugby programme and the Hong Kong Premiership.

“What they do is they bring a hard-nosed, professional work ethic to our programme because they have come from the top rugby culture in the world,” he said.

“They are tough, they are focused on rugby and they bring that determined rugby culture into our rugby culture.

“They raise the standards in club sessions and in the Premiership, so the knock-on effect is holistic within our clubs.”

Stephens, Dowsing and De Thierry will become eligible to play for Hong Kong in November 2019 and Rees is eager to bring more players in before this year’s December 31 deadline that sees World Rugby’s residency requirement stretched from three years to five.

The union’s partnership with the Chiefs expires in November, however Rees is “very confident” it will be extended by another three years and the development squad’s annual tour to Hong Kong will continue.

“The ongoing partnership is critical for our World Cup campaign and we hope to secure another three-year partnership which will lead us into the World Cup qualifiers in 2018,” he said.

“Their development squad will then visit us two weeks before the Asia Rugby Championships in 2018, which is the start of the World Cup qualifying campaign.

“We are hoping that by November, because obviously the Mitre 10 Cup [in New Zealand] is ongoing, we would have identified a couple more players to come up.”

Rees says the partnership is working both ways for the players that have chosen to remain in Hong Kong, giving them a chance to pursue a full-time career in rugby.

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“We’re offering a service to the Chiefs as well for players that are not going to become regular Chiefs players,” he said.

“These three kids that have come back, they hadn’t travelled outside New Zealand before. They are now more rounded individuals, they see there is opportunities to build a rugby career and a career outside rugby in Hong Kong.”

Back-rower Dowsing, 22, (Bloomberg HK Scottish) and full back De Thierry, 23, (Natixis HKFC) stepped out in the opening round of the Premiership on the weekend, while 22-year-old Stephens, a No 8 who plays for Kowloon, is working his way back from an ACL injury.

“On the first week of evidence, it was a strong showing by all the teams in the Premiership with a lot of news guys coming into town of good quality,” Rees said.

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“We are quite pleased with what we have seen outside the eligible players and the Premiership will be as strong, if not stronger, again this year.”

Round two of the Premiership sees Kowloon take on Societe Generale Valley on Friday night, with Scottish tackling HKFC and the Borrelli Walsh USRC Tigers and Herbert Smith Freehills HKCC locking horns on Saturday.

De Thierry’s HKFC pulled off the shock of the opening round in beating Kowloon and face another test at Shek Kip Mei against Scottish.

“Scottish were pretty good on the weekend, they are loaded up with a lot of Hong Kong players,” HKFC coach Phil Bailey said.

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“It’s always tough and to go out there is a little bit of added adversity, but we will take it in our stride.”

In the KPMG’s Women’s Premiership, Gai Wu play Kowloon, HKFC take on CWB Phoenix, Tigers tackle City Sparkle and Valley lock horns with Tai Po.