06 Apr 2020

After a 12-year contribution to Hong Kong rugby, Dai Rees has announced that he is stepping down from his role as Chief Rugby Officer of the Hong Kong Rugby Union (HKRU) effective 1 July.

“The HKRU and our thriving local rugby community owe a great debt to Dai for his dedication and commitment. His tenure has coincided with some of Hong Kong rugby’s biggest milestones and we are thankful for the impact he has had on the Union and the game. Dai will be missed greatly by the players and staff at the Union and while we regret losing him at this time, we wish him the very best in his future endeavours,” said Robbie McRobbie, Chief Executive of the Hong Kong Rugby Union.

One of the HKRU’s most successful coaches, Rees was influential in driving the consistent performance growth in Hong Kong’s representative game since arriving in 2008 to coach the HKRU fifteens team, before adding the sevens squad to his coaching portfolio the following season. Roles as Head of Technical Development and Performance Rugby, and General Manager of Rugby Performance and Development followed, before his most recent appointment as Chief Rugby Operations Officer in 2017, with oversight of all athletes and staff across the Union’s performance, development and participation rugby departments.

While Rees’ ascension from coach to senior management was essential in husbanding this growth, it also represented a move from his primary passions: coaching, teaching and personal development. Now after nearly 12 years in the city, Rees is fulfilling a growing desire to return to his roots in modeling behaviours that allow young people to identify and shape their life vision.

“My life’s purpose and vision continues to “revolve”. I started my career as a teacher and later moved into senior management as a college principal. As a strategic manager, I missed the interaction with people that I had when I was teaching and coaching, and with the support of my family, decided to take up a career in full time coaching with Newport Gwent Dragons and Wales before moving to HKRU.

“It has been a similar progression here. In my early coaching roles, I was fortunate to forge life-long relationships with administrators and coaches like Ivan Torpey, Nathan Stewart, Alex Gibbs and Justin Faulkner, and young players like Keith Robertson, Rowan Varty, Mark Wright and Salom Yiu Kam-shing. It’s been a privilege to work with these young men in rugby and their careers beyond the game, and I consider them close friends.

“As our high performance, development and participation programmes grew, I was tasked with managing and integrating all three areas, which was an exciting challenge, but one that once again pulled me further from my desire to have a personal impact on people’s lives. 

“I’ve recently attained an accreditation in personal development and transformational coaching, which has allowed me to reflect on the next part of my journey. It’s all pointing toward opportunities where I can embrace and influence change in the world by working with young people and developing health and wellbeing initiatives for like-minded adults.”

Rees can look back on a list of impressive accomplishments as coach. He led Hong Kong’s sevens squad to an East Asian Games silver medal, two Asian Sevens Series titles and Asian Games silver in 2014, paving the way for sevens’ inclusion as an elite sport at the HKSI, and laying the foundation for the HKRU’s first ever Asian Games gold in Jakarta in 2018. He also charted a difficult but necessary course for the fifteens programme, emerging from the squad’s worst global ranking of 38 to a consistent spot in the top 25 and status as the region’s second most competitive union after Japan. The same timeframe saw Hong Kong rise to a leading contender for a spot at the Rugby World Cup, with the HKRU qualifying for its first global repechage in 2014 in Uruguay, and progressing to the final four stage in France, 2018.

Rees also managed the continued growth of the HKRU’s performance platform, with an emphasis on the youth and women’s game. Results followed apace with the women becoming Hong Kong’s first team to qualify for a senior world cup (2017), while the men’s U20s programme has swept its regional competition for six years running to reach the past seven World Rugby U20s Trophy tournaments.

Most importantly, these areas represent some of the brightest hopes for the local game, with women’s rugby leading all sectors in local recruitment, while over the past 7 years, 70 Junior World Rugby Trophy squad members have competed in the HKRU Premiership and pressed their claims for representative honours, a vital development given World Rugby’s lengthening eligibility rulings.

Rees has worked with 33 different club chairs to develop the Men’s Premiership, and drove the inception of the Elite Rugby Programme in 2015, creating the Union’s first professional system for promising fifteens players, fueling rising standards in the domestic and international game.

Oversight and staffing of the HKRU’s programmes has been another key aspect for Rees: “We focused on getting the right people in the right jobs. People with significant experience, who knew their business and whom we trusted would conduct that business with the interests of Hong Kong rugby at heart.

“This is one of the areas I’m most proud of, I’m leaving the HKRU with a team of talented professionals who are deeply committed to the development of the game here and the people who play, referee and coach it. That makes me feel comfortable in my decision to focus on my family and personal interests knowing that the team we have in place is so strong,” said Rees.

“Coaches and teachers have a unique opportunity to change the world through the support of and development of young people, and while I have loved my time with the HKRU, and the people that I’ve met and worked with along the way, I find myself drawn back to my true essence. 

“The next stage of my career is likely to be in education, at a school, or within an academy structure, which gives me an opportunity to reach young athletes at an earlier stage than in senior high- performance environments. It is vital that we nurture and develop athletes at a very early age.”

The Rees’ will return to Shrewsbury, England, the hometown of Dai’s wife Sarah.

“My family has loved our time here and the diversity of the city was a driving factor in me taking the position. Our children have grown up here and consider Hong Kong their home. It will be emotional to leave, but I’m confident that I’m leaving things in a good place. The HKRU and my staff know that I am always here for them in any way they need.

“I would like to thank Robbie McRobbie, all of my friends and colleagues, the coaches and players, the Union’s Board of Directors, and the extended rugby community for making the last 12 years unforgettable and so very, very special for me and my family.”

While Rees will likely miss his first Cathay Pacific/HSBC Hong Kong Sevens in the last 14 years (three with Wales and the last 11 with the HKRU) he hopes to return for 2021 as a spectator.

“It will be good to reflect on my journey with the HKRU with some time and space important over the coming months, but I look forward to coming back. It will be interesting; I have never been to the Sevens as a spectator, and never visited the South Stand. My daughters tell me it’s madness, so I may give that a try with my son, Will, when we come back” he added.

No doubt, Rees will have a warm welcome in all corners of the stadium and the Hong Kong Rugby  community given his impact on the game.