Max Denmark, Hong Kong’s U19 rugby captain, can’t imagine doing anything else.
“I used to play football when I was young. Then I started playing rugby when I was eight years old. I just loved the game, right from the very start,” Max said. “I loved how physical it was compared to football.”
The former Island School student spent his last two years of secondary school at Millfield School – one of the top sports schools in the UK – largely to improve his rugby. Now, the 18-year-old is back in Hong Kong, playing full-time for the Hong Kong Rugby Union’s elite junior programme.
“My mum is half African and half English, and my dad is half English, half Irish, but I was born and raised in Hong Kong so it will always be my home,” Max said. “I plan on playing for Hong Kong for as long as I possibly can.”
Max isn’t just playing for Hong Kong, though.
He is leading its new generation of elite talent. In December, he helped lead his team to a dominant 40-7 victory over Sri Lanka, giving them their fifth straight Asian Rugby U19 Championship at the Hong Kong Football Club last month.
“It felt amazing to win on our home turf, especially for my first time as a captain,” Max said.
“I thought the game itself was played to a very high standard – both sides played good rugby – but we were just more clinical and able to execute on the opportunities given to us.”
Despite being quite big and strong for his position, Max prides himself on his speed, agility, and rugby IQ.
“I don’t want to be a forward who just runs into people – I like being an agile forward and using my speed to my advantage against the bigger guys.”
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Although his game improved significantly while competing against the “massive monsters” in the UK, Max was impressed seeing the strides Hong Kong rugby had made during his time away.
“I was surprised when I got back to feel the change in the game; it’s much more fast-paced and every player’s skills have reached a higher standard,” he enthused.
Max hopes to inspire even more young talent to fill the glaring gaps in Hong Kong’s task force.
“I definitely think that is the biggest thing to improve on. We have some great, top-tier players but not many. We just need more players.”
Looking ahead, Max isn’t sure which university he’ll attend, but “hopefully, it’ll be one that’s good at rugby”. He is, however, positive about pursuing a professional rugby career, wherever that may be.
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“The only long-term goal I have is to play professional rugby and make that my career,” he said. “That’s my absolute priority. Whatever happens after that, happens.”
In the short-term, Max is looking forward to a tour in Fiji, where Hong Kong will compete against the top Fijian high school. “It will be a huge chance for our team to learn from the best,” he said.
And his advice for young rugby players?
“Just enjoy the game. You play your best when you’re having fun and expressing yourself … that should always be the focus.”