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Cado Lee, who took up rugby as a student in Britain, hopes to finally play for Hong Kong at this month's Hong Kong Sevens

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Cado Lee, who studies at the University of Hong Kong, hopes to play for Hong Kong at this month's Hong Kong Sevens.
Cado Lee, who studies at the University of Hong Kong, hopes to play for Hong Kong at this month's Hong Kong Sevens.
Photo: Nora Tam/SCMP
The Hong Kong Sevens has been an important sports tournament for rugby fans in the city since 1976. Yet Hong Kong player Cado Lee Ka-to, who hopes to make his debut at this month's event, never took an interest until studying in Britain.

Lee, 20, a Year Two student in exercise and health at the University of Hong Kong, started to play the game only after he left Wong Chuk Hang Catholic Primary School, in Aberdeen, and began studying at Ashville College in northern England.

"My school made rugby a compulsory sport for junior students, so that's why I started to learn it," says Lee, who was soon a core player in his school team, playing weekly rugby union matches in English schools knockout and cup competitions.

He took an interest in rugby in Hong Kong when his coach at school suggested he play in the traditional New Year's Day Youth Tournament featuring a team of students studying overseas against a team of local-based students.

Lee failed to win selection in both 2007 and 2008, but in 2009 he was selected to play for the under-18 overseas team.

He played so well that he was chosen to join Hong Kong's youth squad and competed in two Asian Youth Championships in 2010 and 2011. "For the first time I felt what it was like representing my city in an international tournament," he says. "It felt special to stand and sing the national anthem on the field."

When he returned to start university in Hong Kong, he joined Kowloon Rugby Football Club.

"Although I'd learnt rugby in Britain, I was playing against teams in my own age group, so I needed some time to get used to playing against older players in league matches for my club," Lee says.

Yet he soon adapted and Hong Kong's national team asked him to join their training squad before the Sevens. At 19, he became the youngest player in the national team.

Even though he did not get picked for the final squad to play in the tournament, he enjoyed training alongside the city's top players.

His favourite moment during the training was playing in a pre-tournament friendly against New Zealand. "I was surprised to be asked to join Hong Kong's training squad, but then I even got a chance to play against New Zealand before the Hong Kong Sevens," he says.

After the match, Lee realised that playing at such a high standard is not beyond his capabilities.

"There's a big difference in standard between me and the New Zealand players, but I'm confident that I can get closer, or even reach their level one day, if I continue to work hard," he says.

This year, Lee was picked again to join Hong Kong's training squad - and he remains the youngest player.

The local players started preparing for the Hong Kong Sevens several weeks ago and - after a week's "reading break" from university - he has been able to train hard and feels ready to be in Hong Kong's squad for the tournament.

"I am quite nervous at the moment," Lee says. "I think I have a better chance of making this year's Hong Kong team for the Sevens than I did last year. But I still need to wait and see the official squad list, which will be released on Saturday."

"I treasure all the enjoyment I've got from rugby and I feel glad that I chose to come back to Hong Kong to take my university studies. Otherwise, I would have missed so many opportunities - including a chance to play at the Hong Kong Sevens."

The annual Hong Kong Sevens, held at Hong Kong Stadium, features 24 rugby union nations in a seven-a-side competition from March 23 to 25.

New Zealand beat England 29-17 in last year's cup final. The cup competition features the top teams, but there are also plate, bowl and shield events.

Hong Kong, who are in Pool D this year, alongside Tonga, Uruguay and China, won the shield in 2010.

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