15 Apr 2021

The Hong Kong Rugby Union (HKRU) has announced that Bloomberg HK Scottish and former South China Tigers coach Craig Hammond will coach the Hong Kong, China Men’s team (XVs).

The move follows the departure of HKRU General Manager of Rugby Performance Leigh Jones to Leicester Tigers next month, and the closure of the professional Elite Rugby Player programme in June. Former Hong Kong coach Andrew Hall has stepped in to Jones’s General Manager post on an interim basis, alongside women’s coach Jo Hull. While recruitment for the General Manager post is on going, Hammond’s experience with Tigers and the Hong Kong team set-up made him the natural choice to coach the pivotal campaign ahead.

“This was a role that I have shown great interest in over the past few years I have been involved in the setup and coaching of the Tigers and Hong Kong team,” said a delighted Hammond, who previously was forwards and defence coach for Hong Kong under Jones and Hall.

After the men’s programme reverted to a semi-professional, part-time model, an opportunity presented itself for a timeshare with Scottish for Hammond’s services. The former lock has been influential at the club since arriving in 2012, and will transition from Head Coach to a Director of Rugby role with Scottish while working with the Hong Kong XV.

 “I have matured a lot as a coach from my experience with the Tigers and from working with Leigh and Andy. I always said if the opportunity to coach Hong Kong was ever there, I would jump on it, so I did, but the way it has turned out with Scottish is really special,” added Hammond.

The arrangement leaves him with a lot on his plate and little time to do it with the ERP closure and continuing uncertainty around the domestic and international calendars given the pandemic’s impact.   

“There is a lot in the air at the moment and the guys have had very little rugby over the past year, so there are more than a few unknowns,” said Hammond, but the former double centurion for Nottingham is unfazed by the challenges or the work ahead.

“It is a pivotal year, with the ARC and World Cup qualification, so stepping into that atmosphere is hugely exciting for me. Having been involved in the repechage in 2018, I know how much effort the squad has devoted to getting back in that position again, and that means winning the ARC.”

After a period of change in Hong Kong rugby circles, Hammond’s first priorities will be creating a new operating environment, a challenge he is relishing: “We have many talented and smart players already vested in the set-up; more and more quality locally born players coming through; and are expecting as many as eight new eligible players from the Premiership rolls by the time the ARC rolls around, so we are confident.

“There is a lot of planning and work to be done yet, and it will no doubt be a different beast as a part-time programme and with people moving on, but this changing of the guard can only create opportunities for others going forward.

“The timelines are demanding but in good ways. We have great players and coaches, that is something that has never changed, but now that we are part-time, guys are really going to have to want to be here, and to make that commitment to train and prepare for rugby at the highest level in their limited free time.

“It will take everyone working harder than ever towards the same goal to achieve the markers we want to set: a third straight win in the Asia Championship, advancing our World Cup qualification, and building a winning environment. It is a big year for Hong Kong Rugby and the next few months are really important.

Hammond is more than ready: “I’m excited to start creating the environments that guys want to be in and compete in, with players and coaches that welcome the challenge of competing amongst and within themselves to produce their best for Hong Kong.

“I love getting stuck in to situations like this and thrive on building teams and cultures capable of performing under pressure. I have learned from some of the best and understand that the goal is building leaders on and off the pitch. I don’t mind hard work and am looking forward to starting fresh,” Hammond added.

Hammond could point to his high profile coaching experience, successful playing career, and familiarity with the squad as the biggest benefits to him in his new role, but characteristically he noted his experience working with Jones as influential in preparing him for the next step in his coaching progression.

“I know head coaching is a completely different beast to being an assistant, but Leigh always put me in positions that stretched me, like coaching the Tigers. He was a great mentor to me and made sure I was challenged and pushing the boundaries of my comfort zone, that experience will pay off well for me now,” Hammond said.