Warriors squads make international debut in Philippines

16 Dec 2015

The Hong Kong Rugby Union (HKRU) has debuted its newest representative squads, the Hong Kong Warriors. Split into Senior and Junior Warriors sides, the teams will make their first international competition this week in a tour of the Philippines playing against the Philippines Rugby Football Union development sides.

“This is a representative squad, they are the Hong Kong Warriors, with development the key aspect,” said Dai Rees, General Manager of Rugby Performance at the HKRU. “The primary objective is to show local players the opportunities available through rugby and to help develop their skills to advance them further along Hong Kong’s rugby ladder with the ultimate goal of feeding our domestic Premiership Clubs,” adds Rees.

As mentioned, among the key developmental objectives behind the creation of the Senior Warriors is helping promising locally based players bridge the performance gaps in domestic rugby. At Senior levels, those gaps are primarily between National League and Championship Club level and Premiership A and Premiership rugby.

The Senior Warriors squad has been selected primarily from teams outside of the Premiership, with a leavening of local Premiership and Premiership A players, including Eric Kwok Pak Nga from Borrelli Walsh USRC Tigers, Tony Wong Ho Yeung and Terry Tsang Kai Cheuk from Societe Generale Valley, and Ray Li Tsz Hin of Sabre Kowloon - all of whom are receiving significant time at Premiership level.

For the Juniors, who play at Under-19s level, the programme will help identify promising players who can advance to Hong Kong’s Under 20s set-up.

The squads have engaged in a six-month development programme led by HKRU coaching staff to prepare for what will be the first international tour for the majority of the players.The inaugural tour to the Philippines will be followed up by other international engagements for both teams, although it is likely that in future the two will tour independently of each other.

“Factoring in exam times and other academic requirements, this is the best window for the Juniors to play,” said Rees. “Normally we will look to engage in a Tour for the Juniors in December, while for the Seniors the ideal timing would be after the completion of the domestic season. But in this instance we were invited by the PRFU to bring both squads on tour at the same time to maximize the opportunity.”

The squads have been preparing intensively. For the Juniors, the initial training squad was compiled from players identified in the HKRU Summer Rugby Development camps, which are focused on developing Hong Kong’s most promising locally based players based over the Summer break. Eventually the initial group was whittled down to the final 25 players selected to tour.

The Seniors players were identified by HKRU coaches, club coaching officers and development officers and by clubs participating primarily in the HKRU National League and Championship Leagues. Clubs nominated players for consideration for the Senior squad and the Warriors coaching team has been evaluating and working closely with these players to prepare them to step up to another level.

In keeping with the development goals behind the Warriors set-up, the programme also provides opportunities for HKRU coaches and management teams to get additional international seasoning. The Warriors programme is overseen by programme manager Fung Kai Hang, Development Rugby Manager at the HKRU. The Senior Warriors coach is Fan Shun Kei, an HKRU National Performance Coach , who also coaches the Hong Kong U20s men’s sevens team. Fung and Roy Law King Yin, HKRU Youth Rugby Operations Officer, will serve as assistant coaches for the Seniors, while HKRU National Development Performance Coach “Sailo” Lai Yiu Pang is the head coach of the Junior Warriors team, supported by Kenny Ng Wai Keung, HKRU Coach Development Coordinator, and Andrew Li Gah Wai, HKRU Community Manager, as assistant coaches.

With the Warriors’ international debut fast approaching, the HKRU has established benchmarks for the tour’s success: “We are heading a bit into the unknown on this tour,” said Rees. “But as our development structure is strong and the players have been engaged in a substantial preparation phase, we’d like to come back with a couple of victories.”

One of the primary goals - offering enhanced opportunities for promising local players to progress into Premiership and representative rugby - will have been met before a ball is kicked in anger.

“One of the keys of the programme is offering more opportunities for players with promise and showing a clear pathway to performance rugby for players at National and Championship club level. A lot of these players want to progress their game and want the opportunity to travel and broaden their horizons through rugby. Now that we have identified players with this interest and with good rugby potential, we’re creating additional opportunities for them to gain the core skills that will be needed for that to happen,” Rees added.

Encouraging these players to continue investing their time and energy in developing their skill is a key strategic goal that will be fostered by the inclusion of players who have already tasted success at senior level in the Senior Warriors squad.

“Linking these players with the more established guys in the squad, those who have represented Hong Kong or who have had an opportunity to see what senior performance rugby is about by playing in the Premiership, is a key goal.

“Some of the players selected in the Senior Warriors are already fairly advanced in our systems and are contributing already. They will be the models for their teammates. Being in that role on tour is also going to help take the experienced guys - who are still learning themselves in a performance environment - further out of their comfort zones to aid in their development,” said Rees.

The Warriors players will have a unique opportunity to experience life as an international player on tour.

Notes Rees: “Everything the squads are doing is purposely mirroring the image of our Performance squads and our Premiership clubs in the way the players train and prepare. At the moment we’re focusing purely on the on-pitch elements, but as the programme continues we will expand more into the physical preparation, nutrition and mental toughness elements.”

The HKRU has set some early performance indicators for the teams, which Rees is confident of achieving:

“For the Juniors, we want to push five or six players into the U19s set-up. For the Seniors, it’s about encouraging players to progress higher in club rugby and helping them develop links with Premiership clubs, if they are not linked already. We’d like to see a similar number of players from the Senior squad advance initially to Premiership A level next season,” said Rees.

Some of the steady hands in the Senior squad will be instrumental in achieving this goal. Among the more recognized Senior Warriors are Eric Kwok Pak Nga, who was formally registered with his home club City RFC and is now with Premiership side Tigers, giving him a footing in his community based club structure but also helping to advance his ambitions on the domestic and international scene.

Since being identified through the HKRU development structures, Kwok has become an integral member of the Hong Kong U20s set-up playing in both the Asia Rugby U20s sevens and at the World Rugby U20 Trophy in the past few seasons. His development has been further supported with a contract in the elite rugby sevens programme at the Hong Kong Sports Institute where his skills and preparation are being further honed in a professional environment.

Rees also points to players like Tony Wong Ho Yeung and Terry Tsang Kai Cheuk both of whom have played roles in Valley’s Premiership success this season.“We have included these players in the side intentionally,” says Rees “Because we want their teammates to see that in action. We want these elder statesmen to show the others that they can achieve and just what they can achieve if they continue to work hard.”

For the members of the inaugural HKRU Warriors touring squads, the hard work - and the potential rewards gained from it - are only just beginning.

Hong Kong Warriors (Senior) Squad:

AU Yuen Fong (SCAA First Pacific Causeway Bay), HO Yiu Nam (TSW Pandas), CHEUNG Wang Piu (Kowloon), SHUM Shu Wa (TSW), Terry TSANG Kai Cheuk (Valley), Dave WONG Tai Yik (Kowloon), CHEUNG Ku Ngai (TSW), FU Po Keung (TSW), YIP Man Kuen (TSW), Elton CHEUNG Hon Tung (HKCC), KONG Sai Man (Tigers), WONG Ka Wai (City), Tony WONG Ho Yeung (Valley), YIK Ho Yin (Hong Kong Scottish), Tony CHEN Po Yuan (Tigers), Ray LI Tsz Hin (Kowloon), CHEN Ho Lam (Tigers), SO Hok Ken (City), CHIU Kai Tung (Kowloon), Eric KWOK Pak Nga (Tigers), TSANG Pak Ngai (Tigers), Michael FUNG King Ting (CWB), HUNG Chak Kwan (City), YIP Tsz Ho (Valley), Mo Chun Kit (Tigers).

Hong Kong Warriors (Junior) Squad:
CHEUNG Tak Lung (Twister), LAI Chun Hin (TSW Pandas), CHAU Siu Fung (Operation Breakthrough), CHENG King Ho (TSW Pandas), TANG Man Chun (HKFC), WONG Shun Ming (Operation Breakthrough), CHAN Wang Tat (Operation Breakthrough), LAW Chun Yuen (East Kowloon), CHAN Hiu Fung (Police), Brian LEUNG Yik Hong (Tigers), John MAK Chung Kan (TSW Pandas), YUEN Kwok Fung (TSW Pandas), AU YEUNG Man Ho (Twister), CHAN Kwun Ho (Tigers), CHEUNG Ka Shun (TSW Pandas), YUEN Kwok Hing (HKFC), FOK Man Lok (TSW Pandas), SO Chi Fung (TSW Pandas), CHEUNG Ka Lok (East Kowloon), CHONG Shun Hong (Operation Breakthrough), FONG Kit Fung (TSW Pandas), CHAN Kai Tong (Operation Breakthrough), CHUNG Ka Hin (Operation Breakthrough), CHAN Wing Chung (TSW Pandas), YIP Yun Hung (TSW Pandas).