by ALAN LORIMER
WINNING your first international cap is always a high point in the career of any aspiring rugby player and certainly this is true for the former North Berwick High School and Aberdeen University scrum-half Jamie Lauder.
The 25-year-old realised his dream when he played his first game for Hong Kong in the former UK territory’s opening match of the Asia Rugby Championship earlier this month, coming off the bench in a 67-8 victory over Malaysia in Kuala Lumpur.
Lauder, the son of Edinburgh Accies stalwart, Ken, qualified to play for Hong Kong last November on the three-year residency rule (now increased to five-years) after excelling for his club Hong Kong FC in the territory’s Premiership league season, twice being named as player of the week.
It’s hardly surprising that Lauder has found his way to Hong Kong given the links the territory has with Scotland. In fact, it was often claimed that Hong Kong was run by Scots and certainly in its early years its infrastructure was the result of Scottish engineering.
Expats making a mark in Hong Kong
That link is strong in rugby as well. Former Scotland centre Graeme Morrison was born and raised in Hong Kong until the age of twelve, when he went to Dollar Academy as a boarder. A trawl through the many Scots currently playing rugby in Hong Kong or involved in coaching merely underlines the ties between the former colony and Scotland.
“It’s a real hot-bed of Scots here in Hong Kong,” says Lauder. “Jamie Hood, the ex-Stewart’s-Melville scrum-half, is the current Hong Kong Sevens captain; another guy from the same school, Angus Dixon, who played for Scotland Under-20s, was capped against Japan; while another Stew-Mel player, Andrew Kelly, the former Edinburgh hooker, is head coach of the Premiership club, Societe Generale Valley.”
Yet another Scot playing a high level of rugby in Hong Kong is the former Heriot’s stand-off Gregor McNeish. “Gregor plays for Hong Kong Scottish, the same club that Ewan Miller of Watsonians played for,” states Lauder.
The Scottish presence is also strong at national level with former Scotland second-row Andrew Hall the assistant coach working under Welshman Leigh Jones, who returned to Hong Kong after a year’s secondment to Japan where his work on defence was influential in helping Eddie Jones’ side defeat South Africa in the 2015 World Cup.
Laying down the Law
Lauder is a product of what was a very strong rugby culture in North Berwick that integrated school and club very successfully. Just how successful the system was can be seen from the list of its alumni, which includes Edinburgh’s Lewis Carmichael, Tom Brown, Chris Dean and Callum Hunter-Hill, the current Ayr and former Scotland Under-20s back-row Tommy Spinks, the Scotland sevens cap Harvey Elms, and his Currie Chieftains clubmate Ruaridh Smith.
As a teenager Lauder represented Edinburgh Under-18s and while studying at Aberdeen he played for and captained his university side in midweek matches while turning out for Aberdeen Grammar on Saturdays.
After graduating with a degree in law from Aberdeen University, Lauder weighed up his immediate work prospects and decided on a radical move.
“Working in a law office didn’t have the appeal for me. Through contacts I landed a temporary job in Hong Kong and started working in the field of compliance and regulatory consultancy,” he explains.
Lauder spent two years in that specialisation before moving to Morgan Stanley on a temporary contract – it had been two years of playing high level rugby and enjoying “the fast pace of life” in Hong Kong.
“I was put in touch with Hong Kong Football Club and worked my way up through the different levels before getting into the 1st XV. I actually played in a variety of positions before settling in at scrum-half,” he recalls.
“There’s a lot of southern hemisphere and English players and in each team there has to be a certain percentage of Hong Kong nationals. We play on a 4G pitch at HKFC which makes for a fast game. The standard of rugby in our Premiership is really good and is improving all the time.”
Hong Kong FC is a long-established club and was the venue for the first ever Hong Kong 7s back in 1976. Since these days the club has expanded and after selling some of its land to the zillion dollar-earning Hong Kong race course, it is now a modern multi sports facility.
The six clubs in the Hong Kong Premiership are well resourced and bounteously backed by big (and it is BIG) business in Hong Kong. The cash slurping around the territory is reflected in the little-known fact that HKRFU is the second wealthiest rugby union in the world surpassed only by the bottomless pit that is England.
“Hong Kong went professional two years ago and has a squad of between 40 and 45 guys on their full-time programme, and there is a pro sevens set-up as well,” explains Lauder.
World Cup Aspirations
The current Asia Rugby Championship campaign has implications for next year’s World Cup. Normally it is a four-way contest played home and away between Japan, South Korea, Malaysia and Hong Kong. Japan, as hosts of the 2019 World Cup have automatic qualification for the global contest and as such are not in this season’s competition.
If Hong Kong win the championship (and their recent record suggests that they are favourites) they will face the Oceania qualifiers, Cook Islands. The winner of that series of home and away games then advances to a four-team knockout competition in the final stage of qualification, in France in November.
So, these are heady times for Jamie Lauder and the newly capped Hong Kong scrum-half is optimistic of at least reaching the first stage. “It’s do-able.” he predicts.
Lauder is hoping his contract with Morgan Stanley will be made permanent but whether that will convince him to put roots in Hong Kong remains to be seen.
“I’m open-minded. It might depend on the rugby going well. But right now, the life-style is brilliant.” he adds.