For many people, the mention of rugby conjures violent images of huge men slamming into each other, tearing up the mud on the pitch to score a try, bashing heads during vicious scrums, and emerging with crooked noses and cauliflower ears.
Rugby is not a delicate sport, but it certainly isn’t a chaotic battlefield. Having represented Hong Kong five times, rugby player Tony Chen is well-versed in the different formations and strategies teams must employ to keep that funny-shaped ball out of opponents’ hands and get it over the line.
“It’s a savage sport, but it does have rules,” reflects the 20-year-old PolyU student, who studies enterprise engineering with management. He’s been playing since he was eight years old when his brother took him along to a rugby club training session. All these years later, he’s a seasoned player whose most recent major tournament was the Asian Rugby Sevens U20 earlier this month.
“This is our home town, we need this win!” the players told themselves as they stepped out on to the pitch in matches against the Philippines, Korea, Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia, Chinese Taipei and top rivals Sri Lanka.
Just weeks before, in Malaysia, the men’s team had seen their two-year spell as Asian champions come to an end after failing to advance to the Cup competition from the opening rounds of pool play. When the Sevens came to Hong Kong, the team hoped to capitalise on their home-turf advantage.
“It was a very physical tournament,” says Chen. However, Hong Kong had put in the hard graft before the competition, and had practised contact area and handling drills until they could stand confident in the path of the toughest bullies at King’s Park.
The team avenged their disappointing finish in Malaysia by averaging 34 points across five matches, before a gripping semi-final match against the Malaysian team, in which they snatched a 26-14 victory and secured a place in the final. All that was left was a showdown with Sri Lanka, who had performed well throughout the whole series.
But Hong Kong came through, brushing aside the Sri Lankan team. By halftime, they had a 19-0 lead, and they won with a storming 36-10 triumph. “Our performance in the final was superb. We started really well and got on the board early,” said senior squad coach Fan Shun-kei.
Even though Sri Lanka still ended up claiming the Sevens title, Hong Kong finished in third place, and celebrated a thrilling tournament. Already looking to the next challenge, Chen says simply, “I was really honoured – not only to represent Hong Kong, but also to play alongside my great teammates.”
Instead of a pro-player or fellow teammate, Chen names his former school sports teacher, “Mr Blue”, as a key role model. “Despite his age, he is still passionate about sport and teaching. He inspired me to keep fighting for the sport I love in order to become a great player,” he explains.
What song/movie title best describes you when you’re playing your sport?
You can take the abilities of any animal during one competition. Which do you choose and why?
The ability to fly, so I could soar over opponents to score a try.
What’s your favourite thing to eat before a big event?
Which fictional character would you choose as your team mate?
10 years in the future, you are a famous athlete. What company are you spokesperson for, and what do you promote?
Oxfam, to help people in need and share the joy of rugby with them.