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Tue, 22 March 2016

HKRU Launches Professional 15s Platform; Leigh Jones to Head Programme

The Hong Rugby Union (HKRU) has unveiled details of its Elite Rugby Programme (ERP) intiative, the first fully professional fifteen-a-side rugby platform in Hong Kong history.

The programme will be housed at the Elite Rugby Training Centre (ERTC), a state of the art centre for the continued advancement of Hong Kong Rugby and its leading players.

The Elite Rugby Programme is a giant step forward for the HKRU and was made possible by the outstanding support of the HKRU Board, local clubs and the entire rugby community.

Dai Rees, HKRU General Manager of Performance Rugby  

Dai Rees

Representing a multi-million-dollar investment by the HKRU, the ERP aims to further raise the standard of domestic rugby and to help retain up-and-coming talent for the game.

“The ERP is designed to further strengthen our domestic leagues, which will also enhance the standard of our national teams,” said Dai Rees, HKRU General Manager of Performance Rugby. “The programme will also help us retain and develop younger players and incentivise players to return to Hong Kong after university by demonstrating that there is now a career path for them in rugby.”

The Elite Rugby Programme demands a high level of professionalism and players will be competitively compensated on a full-time basis and subject to an annual review process to continually benchmark their progress and potential.

The inauguration of the ERP means that the HKRU has now established complete professional pathways for talented players across both sevens and fifteens for the first time in its history.

The ERP will centrally contract 35 to 40 senior and junior players on multi-year terms. Players are contracted on a full-time basis, while also being encouraged and supported to maintain their non-rugby professional prospects. ERP players are afforded 12 hours per week for outside employment or work-experience gathering.

The HKRU supports the ERP players at every step of their professional development, through programmes customised for the individual player that encompass rugby, career and life skills development.

The substantial Union investment in the ERP has allowed for the retention of a full-time Performance Lifestyle Manager in Mr Mick Stott, who will also work extensively with the Junior athletes in the programme.

While not a prerequisite, the vast majority of players invited to join the ERP are eligible to represent Hong Kong, with others in the programme coming eligible prior to Hong Kong’s next fifteen-a-side competition, the Asia Rugby Championship, this spring.

Elite local league players such as Hong Kong Cricket Club’s Ben Roberts and Valley’s Matthew Rosslee have already been engaged in the programme as they advance towards Hong Kong eligibility. Other players in the programme include Alex Ng Wai Shing (Valley), Charles Cheung Ho Ning (HK Scottish), Jamie Tsang (Kowloon) and Lee Jung Sing (USRC Tigers) and Niall Rowark (Hong Kong Football Club).

The programme is also open to Junior scholarship players who must be over 18 and working or studying full-time in Hong Kong. Scholarship players must also have previously represented Hong Kong at National Age Grade level and maintain an active affiliation with one of Hong Kong’s six Premiership clubs.

Junior ERP players include Ray Li Tsz Hin and Ben Tang Cheuk Hang from Kowloon and Ken Encarnacion from Gai Wu/Hong Kong Scottish. These three up-and-coming rugby athletes were previously invited to attend the summer development camp at Super Rugby club The Chiefs. Joey Cheung (Kowloon) and Callum McFeat-Smith (HKFC) are also included in the Junior ERP and are featuring in Hong Kong’s current Under 20 team, which will take part in the World Rugby Under 20 Trophy in May.

Leigh Jones to Head Elite Rugby Programme

Hong Kong coach Leigh Jones will head the Elite Rugby Programme.

Jones who departed the HKRU to join the Japan coaching team in 2014, has returned to the one of the world's most loved and vibrant cities to head the ERP, a position equivalent to that of Gareth Baber, HKRU Men’s Sevens coach, who also heads the sevens programme at the Hong Kong Sports Institute, where 42 players are in residence.

“The partnership has allowed us to bring back Leigh Jones from his time coaching Japan, and on the back of their most successful Rugby World Cup ever, which included the biggest upset in Rugby World Cup history when Japan beat South Africa,” Dai Rees said.

Jones will resume his prior role as Head Coach of the Hong Kong National team. Andy Hall, interim coach after Jones’s departure, returns to his full-time role as Head of Elite Player Development for the HKRU and will also resume his previous position as one of Jones’s senior coaches. In a related move, Gareth Baber will step down from his coaching role with the fifteens team to focus full-time on the Sevens programme at the HKSI.

Jones has supplemented his coaching team with the appointment of Mark Fatialofa as an HKRU Elite XVs performance coach with responsibility as a Backs/Skills coach. Fatialofa comes with a high pedigree after representing Samoa in both 7s and 15s, including playing here in the Rugby World Cup Sevens in 1997. He played over 250 games in the English Championship with Exeter and Cornish Pirates.

The ERP staff also includes National Performance Coach Craig Hammond; Skills Coach and Analyst Chris Davies; Head of Athletic Performance Nathan Stewart; National Strength and Conditioning Manager Luke Davey, and physiotherapist Amanda Baker, all of whom are in residence at the ERTC. 

Jones was excited about the prospects for the programme and the set-up at the ERTC saying, “the collaboration with THEi has been fantastic. They are superb in facilitating our requests and we look forward to utilising the scientific expertise at the Institute across our performance measurement and analysis programmes.”

With full-time players now contracted for both fifteens and sevens, greater integration between the two elite player programmes at the HKRU is envisioned.

Sevens coach Gareth Baber said: “With the ERP, we will see more sharing between the two programmes, which is a net positive for both groups. We’ve always had a lot of interaction, but the ERP now offers us the ability to bring in 15s players who are also full-time professionals, with the equivalent fitness and performance levels that go hand in hand with that professional status. Alongside the HKSI, we now have full-time players in 15s and can make use of that talent to support our ability to fight both corners (15s and 7s).”

The ERP is already fostering enhanced crossover with the elite Sevens programme, as was demonstrated when two ERP players – James Cunningham and Toby Fenn – were selected to make their senior sevens squad debuts in the most recent Hong Kong sevens team selected for last weekend’s Borneo Sevens.

Rugby pictures: Pictures from 2017 Cathay Pacific / HSBC Hong Kong Sevens, Pictures from 2016 Cathay Pacific / HSBC Hong Kong Sevens, Pictures of Cathay Pacific / HSBC Hong Kong Sevens 2015, Pictures of the Asia Rugby Sevens Olympic Games Qualifier in Hong Kong, Pictures of Singha Thailand Sevens 2015, Pictures from the 2013 British & Irish Lions Tour in Hong Kong, Pictures of Hong Kong Sevens 2014, Pictures of Hong Kong Sevens 2013, Pictures of Chartis Cup 2012 and Pictures of Cathay Pacific / HSBC Hong Kong Sevens 2012.

See other recent news regarding: Rugby, Sevens, Cathay Pacific, HSBC, Hong Kong

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