28 May 2019

Andrew Hall to take over as Hong Kong rugby coach

Ex-Scotland international Andrew Hall, a member of the Hong Kong coaching team since 2012, is taking over from Leigh Jones as coach of the Hong Kong national team. 

The 39-year old previously coached Hong Kong on an interim basis, (2014-2015), when Jones joined Japan’s coaching team for the 2015 Rugby World Cup.  Jones returned in 2016 and coached Hong Kong through to last year’s Rugby World Cup repechage, with Hall serving as assistant coach and Head of the Elite Rugby Programme, the HKRU’s professional fifteens programme. 

Hall played for Glasgow Warriors, Newport Gwent Dragons and Scotland before arriving in Hong Kong in 2010 to coach local Premiership club Hong Kong Cricket Club, now HKU Sandy Bay. He coached Hong Kong for ten tests in 2014 and 2015.

He is excited about the opportunity to step into the role again, saying, “It is a privileged position to be handed the reins on the back of what has been a very successful period. There is naturally a bit of pressure in terms of results, but I am a different, and I like to think better, coach now and ready for that challenge.

“Since first coaching Hong Kong there has been a massive shift in my approach because of the development I have experienced under Leigh Jones, particularly after he came back from the Rugby World Cup. I am entering the role more informed now, and with a greater exposure to different coaching approaches and mind-sets,” he added.

The squad has increased its exposure at the same time, having fallen just short of qualifying for the 2019 Rugby World Cup. With work towards 2023 already starting, it was the right time for the planned change in the coaching ranks, with Jones assuming a more administrative and mentoring role over the Union’s Performance structures and Hall stepping into the head coach’s role on a permanent basis.

“It is a bit of a transition year for us, with certain players retiring after the repechage. Potentially, you could say we are in a bit of a rebuilding phase, but we want to win now. We are targeting the Asia Rugby Championship and the November tests, and I expect success there,” said Hall.

The holy grail remains Rugby World Cup qualification and the team is assessing the results from 2019 to benchmark the upcoming cycle.

“The Canada game at the repechage and our Global Rapid Rugby experience shows that we can go toe to toe with teams at that level, to a point, now the challenge is to still be standing at that final bell, ready to knock them over.

“We have reviewed this and are making some changes to our training philosophy as a result of what we have experienced in these tournaments.”

While taking much from Jones, Hall’s approach to man management is admittedly different, something he chalks up to a generational effect.

“I am a similar age to the players where Leigh is more like a father figure for the guys given the age difference. He is like the head master, where I am more of an older brother or teacher of the day. That is probably true of my personal approach as well and I think that there is a different dynamic as a result.

“It’s a good bit of change for the environment, but it’s not chummy. We still demand high standards but how we get them produced is maybe a bit different to before,” Hall noted.

In his role as General Manager, Rugby Performance at the HKRU, Jones will now focus primarily on oversight of the Union’s burgeoning national performance programmes and coaching teams.  For his part he knows Hall is the right man for the job.

“I have watched Andy develop from a raw young coach, some eight or nine years ago, into the quality coach he is today. Over that time, he has continued to develop his craft while his role as Head of the Elite Rugby Programme allows him to hone his leadership skills in devising and delivering a top quality programme for our professional players.

“Both the qualities of coach and leader will be tested to the full and I’m confident he is ready to take on the mantle as head coach.

“I take tremendous satisfaction from what we have achieved in Hong Kong, on the pitch and in having developed a number of quality coaches like Andy. It would be a travesty for me to hang on too long. The transitional period we are in offers a great opportunity to hand over the reins so they can take Hong Kong Rugby to the next level.

“I’m confident Andy and his coaching team can do that. Even in my role as GM with its added responsibilities, I won’t be too far from the cut and thrust of our international game, and hence will always be around to offer advice if needed. But it is now the right time to step back and let Andy have this opportunity because of his quality, and I am confident that he can do it,” said Jones.

Hall has enlisted FWD South China Tigers coach and fellow Hong Kong coaching staff member Craig Hammond into his team, along with Premiership coaches Sam Hocking (defence), Scott Sneddon (backs), Brett Wilkinson (scrum). He expects the team to hit the ground running and continue the progress established under Jones.

“The next six weeks is critical, but it is the longer term objective that is most vital, our three year World Cup qualification cycle. In terms of our professionalism and our goal of reaching the world cup, we have finished the start up phase now.

“The group is now in the phase where we need to continue to challenge ourselves in training and against quality opposition. Growth increments may be harder to achieve or smaller at this level. This is the phase about realising the reality of being a professional rugby player.

“Where you might go three or five weeks without a start, but you still have to have that drive to get better every day. There is no getting away from that. It is part of appreciating that it is your job as a professional player, and that it is not an easy career choice to have made.”