18th Apr 2016

The Hong Kong Rugby Union (HKRU) National Men’s U20 team are in Zimbabwe hunting for their first win at the World Rugby U20 Trophy on their third consecutive appearance in World Rugby’s tier-two age grade championship.

Hong Kong is in Pool B alongside debutants Spain and experienced campaigners in the United States and Namibia. Samoa, relegated from last year’s World Rugby U20 Championship, top Pool A along with Uruguay, Fiji and hosts Zimbabwe.

HKRU U20s Coach Peter Drewett and the selectors have drawn upon an experienced side for the competition, which kicks off on 19 April.

Ten of the 26-man squad are veterans of last year’s competition in Portugal, whilst 18 of the team were in the side that qualified by winning the regional tournament in Singapore in December.

“Unfortunately due to school and university exams and injuries, not all of the Asian title-winning squad was available,” said Drewett, who added that, “In terms of player development, that has created an excellent opportunity for some of our other National Age Grade players to gain invaluable experience at the highest level.”

In Harare, Hong Kong will rely on a group of experienced campaigners, including Hugo Stiles, James Christie, Liam Owens and John William Markley, all of whom are marking their third World Rugby U20 Trophy tournament appearance. Markley, who is also a full-time member of the HKRU’s new professional Elite Rugby Programme, will co-captain the squad alongside Pierce Mackinlay-West.

Christie, Stiles and Owens will be joined by another familiar face in the backline in playmaker Matt Worley, who joins the squad from his stint with the Racing 92 academy in France.

The squad also features a number of players who have amassed significant experience in this year’s premiership campaign, particularly from Bloomberg Hong Kong Scottish, who blooded a significant number of young players this season.

Scottish’s Mark Coebergh, Alessandro Nardoni, Michael Earley, Ken Encarnacion and Austin Robertshaw are all with the team in Zimbabwe, with Nardoni and Encarnacion making their second World Rugby U20 Trophy appearances after last year’s competition.

Mackinlay-West (HKFC), Ron Siew (USRC Tigers) and Ben Tang (Kowloon) are three other players who saw regular time at Premiership and Premiership A level this season.

Hong Kong’s first match will be on 19 April against Spain – on their World Rugby U20 Trophy debut, presenting what could be a ripe opportunity for the SAR to notch their first win in the competition.

Drewett and his assistant coaches, Premiership chiefs Jack Isaac (Societe Generale Valley) and James Scaysbrook (Sabre Kowloon), have put in significant time analysing the team’s previous performances at this level and quickly established an approach to cope with its enhanced physicality.

“We’ve spent a lot of time since Portugal working on our fitness and technical skills under pressure,” says Drewett.

That targeted physical improvement has been assisted by the inception of the HKRU Elite Rugby Programme. In addition to Markley, who is in the senior programme, three of the squad are currently enrolled in the Junior programme: props Ken Encarnacion and Callum Mcfeat-Smith and backrower Ben Tang Cheuk Hang.

Enhancing the physical development of these three has been a focus according to Andrew Hall, HKRU Head of Elite Player Development:

“The U20 Trophy represents a significant step up physically from our local or regional Age Grade competitions. One of the priorities of the Junior ERP programme is to focus on the players’ physical development and strength and conditioning levels. The players have been working hard attending three to four training sessions per week over the past five months and Zimbabwe will provide an important benchmark for their early progress in their individualised programmes.

“Junior ERP players also train alongside their senior counterparts who act as mentors and help instil high performance behaviours. In the senior club game, these learned behaviours are starting to filter down throughout the Premiership and we hope that there will be a similar impact with the Junior ERP players on the rest of the U20 squad,” Hall added.

Four other U20s squad members: Hugo Chui, Ron Siew, Mark Coebergh, and Paul Altier, are involved in the junior sevens programme at the Hong Kong Sports Institute, further bolstering the squad’s preparations for Zimbabwe.

The enhanced physical preparation provided by immersion in a professional training environment should reap rewards as Hong Kong faces a condensed competition schedule with four matches in twelve days.

“Tournaments like these mean that every player in the squad has a very important contribution to make both on and off the field,” said Drewett. “We’re fortunate that we now have the professional ERP and HKSI programmes in place. The opportunity for players to train day in and day out in a high performance environment will be a real asset in handling the physical demands of a very compressed match schedule.

“The World Rugby U20 Trophy is a fantastic opportunity for our players to test themselves on the world stage against some excellent players and teams. The opportunity to play against competition from outside of the region is hugely important for our long-term player and team development. We have some tough opposition in our pool and it will be a massive test for us but we are looking forward to it.

“We know how challenging this tournament is, as we are still looking for our first win, but we also know from previous experience that our players will return better prepared to make the transition to senior and international rugby, so participation continues to be its own reward for us,” Drewett added.

Hong Kong World Rugby U20 Trophy Pool Match Schedule (all times local time Zimbabwe GMT+2):

Tues, 19 April:Hong Kong v Spain (12:00)

Sat, 23 April:Hong Kong v USA (16:00)

Weds, 27 April:Hong Kong v Namibia (12:00)

Hong Kong Men’s U20:

Paul ALTIER (Valley); Cris CALANZA (Hong Kong Football Club); James CHRISTIE* (Northumbria Univ.); Hugo CHUI* (HKFC); Mark COEBERGH (HK Scottish); Jack COMBES (Hartpury College); Michael EARLEY (HK Scottish); Ken ENCARNACION* (HK Scottish/Gai Wu); Oisin HARBITZ (Valley); Jonathan HEALY (HK Scottish); Liam HERBERT (HKFC); James KARTON (USRC Tigers); Pierce MACKINLAY-WEST (Co-captain, HKFC); John MARKLEY* (Co-captain, Valley); Alessandro NARDONI* (HK Scottish); Lachlan OLIVER-KERBY (DB Pirates); Liam OWENS* (Edinburgh University); Austin ROBERTSHAW (HK Scottish); Ron SIEW* (USRC Tigers); Callum McFEAT-SMITH* (HKFC); Hugo STILES* (Bath Univ.); Ben TANG Cheuk Hang* (Kowloon); Anthony WILSON (USRC Tiers); WONG Ming Kei (USRC Tigers); Matthew WORLEY (Racing 92); Wesley YIP (Kowloon).

* Member of the 2015 World Rugby U20 Trophy team in Portugal