27 Apr 2016

Hong Kong Rugby Union (HKRU) referees are riding a wave of international appointments in recent months, welcome recognition for the hard work that goes on behind the scenes in the local refereeing community.

On the heels of the Cathay Pacific/HSBC Hong Kong Sevens, HKRU Community Referee Manager Matt Rodden was appointed to referee for the first time on the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series, in Singapore. Another local referee, Patrick Kwok, has recently been appointed to take charge of his first international fifteen-a-side test match, the opener of the Asia Rugby Championship this weekend in Yokohama, between Japan and South Korea. Both Kwok and Rodden are full-time HKRU staff members.

These two appointments are the latest in a succession of international honours for Hong Kong’s top referees. The recognitions started earlier this year with the appointment of Tim Baker to referee matches in the French Pro D2 professional league.

Baker followed up his strong performances in Asia and in the Natixis Cup match between Racing 92 and the Highlanders with his appointments in France by being named by World Rugby to the panel at the World Rugby Under 20 Trophy presently being held in Zimbabwe.

Earlier this month, Gabriel Lee Wing Yi was selected by World Rugby as one of 12 referees for the Women’s Rugby Sevens competition at the Rio Olympics this summer, when Rugby Sevens will make its Olympic debut.

After refereeing in the World Rugby Sevens Series qualifier in Hong Kong, Rodden was invited to referee in the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series tournament in Singapore. It was Rodden’s first appointment on the World Series; the Qualifier competition features teams that are not regularly involved in the World Series.

The 26-year old Rodden took charge of three pool matches in Singapore – England versus Portugal, South Africa versus Russia and Argentina versus Japan – as well as the England v Scotland Bowl semi-final.

“It was my first time to be selected to referee World Series matches and is probably my biggest achievement to date in my career. It was great as Sevens is where I would like to focus in my refereeing career.

“I enjoy reffing sevens, particularly the tournament format which gives you an opportunity over the course of the weekend to improve your performance, which you don’t get in one-off fifteens matches.”

Rodden relished the occasion in Singapore saying, “It was a great experience although quite a challenge. It was a really good opportunity for me to learn from the established World Series referees and they were very supportive, passing on a lot of what they have learned on the series,” said Rodden.

More international sevens appointments are coming up for Rodden, who will referee at the Amsterdam Sevens, a premier international invitational sevens tournament, and will also get appointments on the Asia Rugby Sevens Series starting in September.

Milestone match for Patrick Kwok

Kwok, meanwhile, is charting new ground in the fifteen-a-side code with his first international test match appointment in the Japan v South Korea game on the opening weekend of the Asia Rugby Championship.

The appointment comes in Kwok’s first season on the Asia Rugby High Performance (15s) Panel, although he has previously refereed at Asian Division II level and has had numerous appointments on the regional sevens circuit.

The 28-year old Kwok is excited about the opportunity. “I’m feeling a bit nervous, which is a good thing. It will be a very good experience for me and definitely a big step up and a great challenge. I’m really looking forward to it,” says Kwok.

Like players moving up to the international stage, Kwok expects a massive step up in the level of the game, saying, “This level is very different in terms of the intensity of the game and this is one of the biggest games that Asian rugby has to offer. The pace, physicality and technical skills of the players are all at a different level to Premiership rugby.”

To prepare, Kwok has been working diligently on his fitness over the past two months and with HKRU Head of Match O Hugh Watkins on refining his understanding of the game.

“I am extremely pleased for Patrick to have this opportunity to referee in the Asia Rugby Championship. This is a big game for him and will promote his rise to the elite panel of Asia Rugby. Over the past 12 months Patrick has worked hard on his fitness and his game management. This appointment is a just reward for all of his hard work,” said Watkins.

“As a group of referees, we have been working really hard,” said Rodden, adding that, “The Union has committed a lot of resources to building up local referees and enhancing our standards, not just at the elite level, but throughout the ranks of social and community rugby here.”

“We’ve made some great strides. All of our elite panel referees are now Asia Rugby panel referees. With Tim and Gabby being selected at World Rugby level, and Gabby for the Olympics, it’s a reward for all of their hard work and all of the hard work by Hugh and our team of referees,” added Rodden.

Watkins reflected on this fecund period for Hong Kong’s rugby referees saying, “Patrick’s appointment is the latest in a string of results for local referees and I am very proud of our achievements to date, with Gabby being selected for the Olympics, Tim out in Zimbabwe for the World Rugby Under 20 Trophy and Matt being given an opportunity to referee at the World Sevens Series in Singapore.

“These appointments send out the right message to all of our referees, as our development pathway is now clearly defined. We have a good nucleus of young referees in our Junior Academy who are doing really well in our community leagues so the pipeline is in place to introduce more of our members to elite level rugby and hopefully we will see more elite international appointments for all of our referees in the near future.”