07 Dec 2017

The Hong Kong U19s men’s national team will hunt for a fifth straight Asia Rugby U19s title next week. A new format introduced this year pits Hong Kong versus the hosts in a home-and-away series with last year’s runners-up Sri Lanka.

Hong Kong will travel to Colombo for the opening match on Sunday (17.30 Hong Kong time), with the home leg at Hong Kong Football Club on 16 December (Saturday). Last year’s side ran the table in the competition, beating Malaysia 67-10, Chinese Taipei 54-8 and Sri Lanka 61-0 and a series win in 2017 will see Hong Kong qualify for another tilt at the World Rugby U20 trophy tournament in 2018.

The squad, under head coach Stephen Dowse, Player Development Manager at the Hong Kong Rugby Union (HKRU), features ten returning members from last year’s winners, including the evergreen Mark Coebergh, who has featured in all four of Hong Kong’s previous Asia Rugby U20 title wins.

Coebergh is joined by Max Denmark, who followed his strong showing at the World Rugby U20 Trophy in August with senior debuts in both sevens and fifteens in the intervening months. The two will co-captain the squad in Sri Lanka, following a new template this year instituted by Dowse.

“The co-captaincy is something that has worked well for us in the men’s senior team set-up. It is also used at The Chiefs and our partnership has helped us see how it can work to the greatest effect. Naming dual captains is also part of our remit to encourage players to take more ownership and is important for our longer-term development at this level, with Mark entering his final year of eligibility,” Dowse said.

Coebergh and Denmark are supported by a number of U20s veterans, including another player who has graduated from age-grade competition to earn a senior cap in winger Marcus Ramage, who will be joined by his brother Gregor, a flanker, in Colombo.

All but two of the locally based players selected are also featuring prominently in the HKRU Old Mutual International Men’s Premiership and Premiership A competitions.

“It is a promising sign of the development of Hong Kong players at an earlier age and something which can be attributed to the increasing standards of training in the local leagues and also the role that the HKRU’s Club Coaching Officers are playing in identifying and nurturing emerging talent in our community,” Dowse added.

Returning players from last year’s competition include Jake Barlow, Mikkel Christensen, Oliver Duffy, Liam Herbert, Takamasa Hoshiyama, James Karton, Oliver Overman.

Also named to the squad are Jack Abbott, Thaddeus Summers and Sam Tsoi, who were selected for the World Rugby U20 Tournament in South America.

Tsoi was identified for selection to the U20 Trophy through the intensive work and support of the coaching team with the HKRU’s development representative side, the Hong Kong Warriors. He is joined by several other Warriors players in the squad, including Kelvin Chau, David Tang, and Chong Shun-hong.

“This is a great development and it has been really encouraging to see the throughput of players from the Warriors. The numbers are increasing year-on-year as local players are starting to see a pathway and coaches are aligned in our planning to turn local players into Warriors, Warriors players into age-grade representatives, and ideally one day senior caps,” said Dowse.

The increasing competitiveness of Hong Kong’s locally based emerging players is evident across the squad, with only six overseas based players selected in the 24-man squad, down from 14 in previous editions.

The selection also reflects the growing focus of the HKRU’s full-time programmes on retaining home-grown talent, with eight players currently involved in the Hong Kong Sports Institute elite rugby sevens programme and four engaged in the fifteen-a-side Elite Rugby Programme. The high number of players drawn from other programmes has both helped and hindered Hong Kong’s build-up according to Dowse:

“We haven’t had as much of a chance to spend much time together as the players are all involved in their programme work or with their Premiership teams. We also cannot rely on being away for an extended tour now and the opportunities to train together as a squad between matches that come from the old format.

“We have intensified our trainings and are working around the player’s commitments by focusing on getting individual units, tight five, forwards and backs, et cetera, together to train. Ultimately, we will have to pull it all together quickly, as we are expecting two tough matches against Sri Lanka. We have put good scores on them in recent years, but just as in sevens, they have a lot of dangerous players who are individually skilful. We can’t allow them to get their heads up.

“It will be down to us to stick to our game plans and be clinical in our execution. If we play to what we have trained we will be in a good place and finishing with a rare opportunity to play at home.”

Hong Kong’s last home U19s match dates all the way back to the World Rugby U20 Trophy hosted here in 2014 an appearance that was fundamental for those involved at the time according to Dowse.

“It will be fantastic to have a chance to play at home. I was at those matches in 2014 as a supporter and the crowd was fantastic. The players really took a lot from that support and we are hoping that it will be similar a week from Saturday.

“We want a big crowd and the chance to show what we can do in front of them to demonstrate the quality we have in the group now.”

Both matches will be streamed live on the HKRU Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/hkrugby/.


Hong Kong Squad for the Asia Rugby U19s Championship 2017 (Sri Lanka, Dec 10 – 18):

Mark COEBERGH (Co-Captain, HK Scottish), Max DENMARK (co-captain, HKFC), Jack ABBOTT (HKFC/South Island School), Paul ALTIER (Valley), Jake BARLOW (HK Scottish/Hartpury College), CHAU Siu-Fung (Tin Shui Wai RFC/Lingnan University), CHONG Shun-hong (USRC Tigers), Mikkel CHRISTENSEN (HKS/DB Pirates/West Island School), Jay COOKE (Kowloon), Alec DREW-PRIOR (HKFC/South island School), Oliver DUFFY (Harrow), Liam HERBERT (HKFC), Takamasa HOSHIYAMA (DB Pirates/Auckland Uni.), James KARTON (HKCC), Alexander NISBET (HKS/Bath Uni.), Oliver OVERMAN (USRC Tigers/Nottingham Trent Uni.), Gregor RAMAGE (HKS/Brighton College), Marcus RAMAGE (HKS), Thaddeus SUMMERS (Valley/Australian Intl School), Callum TAM (HKCC), David TANG (HKFC/Baptist Uni), Sam TSOI (Kowloon/City Uni), Ryan WALKER (USRC Tigers/AIS).