JAMIE SCOTT REFLECTS ON 50 YEARS OF HONG KONG AND REGIONAL RUGBY
The announcement on Tuesday (6 March) of the FWD South China Tigers squad, comprising primarily of Hong Kong’s representative players, set to play in the inaugural Global Rapid Rugby series, marks 50 years this week, since the participation of an earlier Hong Kong representative team in the inaugural Asian Rugby Football Tournament staged in Tokyo from 8 to 16 March 1969, with 5 unions taking part – Japan, Thailand, the Republic Of China, South Korea and Hong Kong.
The squad list contained some familiar names, including Major Mike Campbell Lamerton, who had captained Scotland (1965) and the British and Irish Lions (1966), Justin ‘Gus’ Cunningham, Union Vice President, ‘Gus’ Cunningham and Brian Wigley, a recent inductee to the Union ‘Hall Of Fame'
[It has to be pointed out that the 1969 touring side was not the first Hong Kong RFU representative team.That title belongs to a Hong Kong Rugby Football Club Select Team captained by past Union President, Gerry Forsgate, representing the just formed Hong Kong RFU, that played the All Kwansai Kushu Selected Team, representing the Japan RFU, at Hanazano, Japan on 30 June 1952.
In those days, players had to pay for the cost of everything themselves. The 1952 touring squad included 14 or so Army players, who were able to have all of their costs covered by the British Army Rugby Union if, and only if, they were representing a Union affiliated to the RFU, Twickenham. Hence the Hong Kong RFU was duly founded and affiliated to the RFU Twickenham, in good time prior to the tour- but that’s another story]
The 1969 report from the J D Johnston (HKFC) the manager of the 1969 Hong Kong team playing at the Tournament noted:
“The tournament was excellently organised by the Japan RFU. Despite over 1 foot of snow which fell midway through the tournament and the calling in of 5 huge Japan Defence Force snow ploughs to clear the way, which churned the ground into a sea of mud, all games were played apart from one between Thailand and South Korea.
The Japan side were very fit, fast, hard running and tough and very well coached. The strong points in their team play is their ability to quickly ruck the ball from the breakdown and loose ball situations and that they handle the ball very quickly from any position.
The Korean side was probably the next best side in the Tournament apart from the Hong Kong side. They have a very fine pack, are fit tough and their forward play well drilled and effective; however their backs lacked pace and were short of some basic skills in the game.
The Republic Of China, side was rather a mixture; the standard of their play is considerably varied and their play was inclined to be too orthodox. However, their tenacity and courage lacked nothing and one feels that in the next tournament, they will be able to provide very much harder opposition.
The Thai side were without 4 or 5 of their best players for various reasons and they had to include a number of younger developing players in their side. Their lack of experience showed in the Tournament and their tackling, especially in the midfield was weak, but it has to be kept in mind the temperature was often below zero degrees.
Hong Kong beat the Republic Of China 27- Nil; South Korea 8 -3; and Thailand 32- Nil.
Match day for the final between Hong Kong and Japan dawned with deep snow drifts covering the pitch and once again, Japan Defence Force snow ploughs had to be called in to clear the way. It was a very close game, with Japan winning 24-22 and thus becoming the winners of the first ever Asian Rugby Football Tournament. The tournament was a success and it was agreed at the time to make it an annual event, with the next tournament to take place the following year, in 1970, in Bangkok.”
The Asian Rugby Football Tournament was played over 37 years, promoting and growing regional rugby from 1969 to 2006.