Rugby is a world game. With globalisation, cultures, languages, art forms and music spread throughout the world. Many sports and, in our case, rugby have adopted homes in places obscure and surprising. I have recently arrived home from a five week stint in Hong Kong and more specifically, the Hong Kong Football Club (HKFC). Rugby takes you places.
Upon arrival, I was amazed at the size of the Club. It was more than a rugby club, the sheer facilities alone took my preconceived notions of ‘footy clubs’ to another level. I'd refer to HKFC as more of an ‘expat haven’ with members being fast-tracked into membership by playing a sport. With 3 or 4 restaurants, a ten pin bowling alley, indoor lawn bowl green and so forth, it was easy to see why the Club was one of the hottest memberships in town. In the late 70s, the Hong Kong Jockey Club paid for a complete demolition and rebuild of the club and rugby pitch to make way for a larger Happy Valley Racecourse (infamous if you don’t mind the trots!). So it’s not surprising to be in the gym and watch the finest mares in Honkers light up the track out the window.
Following my first training session, the team is having a buffet in the ‘Sportman’s’ and amongst a sea of plaques on the wall sits the myrtle green Randwick DRUFC crest. Immediately, I feel at home. "Lads, that’s the crest of my club back home…" (most are UK expats). ‘"That’s where Eddie Jones is from… that’s why you guys are doing so bloody well". The banter is alive no matter where you play and shouts of ‘convict’ and attempts to mock my Aussie slang come firing at me. This camaraderie is what makes travelling around the world and playing rugby so easy. We speak the same language whereby there are synergies where our rugby culture and family is forever inviting.
Luckily enough, I lived across the road in Causeway Bay and had views of Happy Valley and HKFC from the apartment. My roommate was a young Englishman who was looking to kick-start his career, using his rugby connections to do so and nail a great job. Hong Kong was a hotspot for expats from the UK in particular. Why? Obviously job opportunities, but surprisingly to me (an Aussie from the Eastern Suburbs) it was the weather that played a large part. I had to remind myself it was winter at times after I found myself relaxing in the jacuzzi outside at the Club.
Not surprising to most, I ate a lot. Many a dim sum was had, buffets post training as well as the odd Chinese dessert from the closeby Wet Market. I enjoy experiencing cultures via food and Hong Kong is one of the greatest cities in which to eat. The BBQ Pork with rice (Char Siu) as well as the Pineapple Buns were Honkers signatures and favourites of mine.
However up until HK, my first few trips overseas were largely due to the shorter form of the game. My first trip for rugby with Randwick was in 2012 to Singapore 7s. Randwick had assembled a great team and we had been training for weeks in preparation under coach Marcus Blackburn in a squad that included current starting blindside flanker for the Crusaders, Pete Samu (how the Waratahs let him go is still surprising to me). It was following my second year in colts and I was stoked to be a part of the team. We lost in the semi to Daveta, who eventually won the comp and featured many Fijian International 7s players. Proud of our finish, we had hoped we could go one better...but that’s sevens. Highlights of that trip included bonding over Chilli Crab with Allen ‘Stutchy’ Stutchbury, sneaking into the Marina Bay Sands infinity pool with my ‘French winger’, Nathan Roye and the SCC7s afterparty, where teams come together to perform, sing and celebrate our game.
I was fortunate enough to travel to Kenya for the Safaricom 7s. In a team called the ‘Australian Renegades’, we were coached by Randwick’s Nath McMahon and had quite the star-studded team; Bill Meakes (current Force midfielder), Rodney Iona and Matt Hawke (former Brumbies players) as well as Wicks Pete Samu and Mark Bannon. With three Wicks players and a coach it was obvious the influence Randwick has had on these opportunities.
I was the youngest on that trip and constantly reminded of my lowly status. Two nights before the opening day, I had lost sight of the team’s mascot (a tour tradition of the youngest never losing the mascot). So it was decided at a Kenyan BBQ Restaurant, Carnivos, that enough was enough and I was due for some punishment. It just so happened that the Samurai Invitational team were in a private room eating with the event's organisers and sponsors. So, Coach ‘Coma’ and the senior members summoned me to barge into the private room and sing the Australian National Anthem to a room of Safas and Poms. Great… We lost to Kenya in the Final, surpassing that highly favoured Samurai Invitational team…perhaps my singing scared them?!?
Despite the fun and games the atmosphere of the tournament was electric, picture the Sydney Sevens with a Kenyan flavour; vuvuzelas, dancing and Tusker replacing the VB tinny. The theme of rugby being a world game was no more present then a 40 thousand capacity filled stadium in Africa going ballistic once their home team Kenya ran onto the field. Away from the pitch we went on Safari, saw the 'big 5' and visited an Elephant Orphanage – by far my highlight. A few of the boys might have mentioned being chased by baboons as theirs.
Back to Singapore we went in 2014, I was able to return to Singapore to co-captain a team with Tom Connor (Tom has since earned a cap for Australia playing in Fiji) for Randwick, under the guidance of Coaches Jayson Brewer and Nath ‘Coma’ McMahon. Nath is now a leading 7s coach in Australia and doing work with both Australian Men’s and Women’s programs. Despite not performing as well as we hoped, the team featured many of the Colts Class of 2012 and thus, a great time was had by all. It gave me great confidence playing a large role in this team and to the development of my running game. I highly recommend it to any players wanting to challenge themselves and test their skills. There is no place to hide on a 7s field!
As many readers may be aware, roughly 40 Wicks travelled to the golden shores of Hawaii for a week of footy, team bonding and celebration in 2013. This was my first experience of a ‘tour’ and I don’t think it could have gone any better. Under the management of Brad Bishop, Wade Kelly, Di Long and Peter ‘Marzo’ Meagher we won the competition, explored the island and lived to tell the tale. Tours are popular throughout the world as Rugby clubs travel to an obscure far away country to play rugby and ultimately bond as a club. But as the saying goes, ‘what happens on tour stays on tour’.
At 24, if my rugby career was to finish tomorrow, I’m forever grateful and feel privileged for the friendships, experiences and opportunities the game and Randwick has given me all over the world.