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Coach Kahui: Former Chiefs star champions Hong Kong cause

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Rugby World Cup winner RICHARD KAHUI speaks to SportAsia about the HKRFU’s ‘strategic development partnership’ with the Chiefs, where the All Black spent seven seasons and won back-to-back Super Rugby titles.

 

Interview SportAsia

Photos Ike Images

 

April 12, 2015: Having toured Hong Kong with the All Blacks for the 2008 Bledisloe Cup, Richard Kahui recently returned to the city to help promote the Chiefs’ three-year ‘strategic development partnership’ with the Hong Kong Rugby Football Union (HKRFU).

 

The launch of this eye-catching tie-up between a Super Rugby franchise and a national union featured the Chiefs Development squad touring Hong Kong and playing against the national 15-a-side team, while Kahui’s activities included a coaching clinic for 200 youngsters at King’s Park.

 

The 29-year-old, who currently plays in Japan’s Top League, scored 10 tries in 16 tests for the All Blacks and was a key member of the side that won the 2011 Rugby World Cup in New Zealand. Kahui played in five matches in the tournament, including the semi-final and final, and scored four tries, touching down twice against both Tonga and Japan in the group stage.

 

A centre who could play on the wing, Kahui played his provincial rugby for Waikato from 2004 to 2012 and was the New Zealand league’s top scorer in 2006, when he also played his first Super Rugby season with the Highlanders.

 

The 6-foot 3-inch powerhouse then became a Chiefs icon during seven successful seasons with the Hamilton-based franchise, helping them win back-to-back titles in 2012 and 2013 before joining Toshiba Brave Lupus on a two-year-contract.

 

Kahui helped Toshiba reach the semi-finals of the Top League playoffs in both 2013-14 and 2014-15, and is now contracted for another two seasons, through early 2017.

 

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Kahui, 29, oversaw a coaching clinic for 200 young rugby players at King’s Park.

You had seven great seasons with the Chiefs and and you appear to retain a strong connection, representing the franchise in this new partnership with the Hong Kong Rugby Football Union.

Yeah, certainly. It’s a team I really loved. Obviously as a kid I really wanted to be a Super Rugby player and play for the Chiefs, and fortunately I had my dream come true. They are a really special group, so now being in Hong Kong with the Development side, I feel really blessed to be here, in a capacity other than as a player.

 

Was the Development team established when you were coming through the ranks?

There were a couple of years when there was a Development side and then there wasn’t; it came in and out of favour. I never actually played Chiefs Development because I went straight from the ITM Cup – or NPC back then – to a season with the Highlanders, so that’s how I got my start in Super Rugby.

 

The new partnership between the Chiefs and the Hong Kong Rugby Football Union is an intriguing tie-up. How did it come about?

I asked the question myself, because I didn’t know how something like this came about, so I talked to Chris Tindall, the Chiefs High Performance Manager. He said they had a stopover on the way home from Japan and e‑mailed the HKRFU saying they were in Hong Kong and wanted to know if they would like to sit down and talk through a few things.

 

I think there was then a year of back‑and‑forth e‑mails and visits, and now we’re here. We’re obviously celebrating the start of a three‑year partnership with Hong Kong Rugby and it’s one that I think is going to benefit both parties really well.

 

Kahui believes the new tie-up will help grow the game - and gain the Chiefs a few new fans.

Kahui believes the new tie-up will help grow the game – and gain the Chiefs a few new fans.

From the Hong Kong perspective, this seems like a great partnership, joining forces with one of the world’s top teams. On the flipside, what are the benefits for the Chiefs? Is there a bid to try and grow their profile around Asia?

Yeah, of course. There are obviously the commercial benefits. With Hong Kong being one of the financial hubs of the world, having some roots in the game over here is obviously great, especially with rugby expanding here in Asia. It’s making those connections. For example, we were coaching 200 kids (at King’s Park) and hopefully we can walk away with 200 new Chiefs fans, grow the Chiefs brand and help grow the game here.

 

Also, our [Development] players are up here experiencing something that they’ve never experienced before. Most of them haven’t travelled away on a rugby tour in Asia, playing against an international side. For our boys it’s a really great experience and for the franchise it’s a really, really good relationship to have.

 

After this tour, what else will happen over the next three years?

For us being here right now, there’s obviously the Asian Rugby Championship coming up, so we just want to help prepare Hong Kong to play Korea and Japan.

 

Being a New Zealand team, we probably play differently to what they’re used to. Our boys are quick and powerful, so they will take a good bit of learning out of that. We also have some really great coaches here that are helping out and we’ve been training in tandem with the Hong Kong team, so the first thing is trying to get them ready for their first game against Korea.

 

As time goes on, there’s going to be a player/coaching swap where the Chiefs will send their coaches up here to help out to help the Hong Kong coaches and the Hong Kong team, and Hong Kong will send some players and coaches down. It will be a good trade, as some Hong Kong guys will have a chance to experience what it’s like to be in a professional Super Rugby environment, a winning professional environment.

 

I think it’s going to be really good, especially for Hong Kong. It’s a really good opportunity for them to grow and give them that experience they probably wouldn’t otherwise get over here; and then again for our boys to come over and experience something completely different to home.

 

Kahui had some help during the training session from Hong Kong players Christy Cheng and Royce Chan.

Kahui had some help during the training session from Hong Kong players Christy Cheng and Royce Chan.

What have you seen of the Chiefs Development and Hong Kong teams training together?

At the first training, we took it pretty easy and the Hong Kong team were training at the same time. After the training, we got together and ran a bit of a coaching clinic, so all the groups of positions got together – the midfielders, the outsides, the forwards – and just did some mini‑unit training, which I thought was really beneficial.

 

It was great to see some of our boys, obviously still young lads, trying to help each of the boys from the Hong Kong team, and also vice versa, because there’s some really experienced guys on the Hong Kong side.

 

Do you have an idea of Hong Kong’s level and what they need to get closer to Japan?

Actually during the recent Tokyo Sevens, I was flipping through the channels and saw a couple of old teammates of mine, like Nick Hewson (Hong Kong 15s captain), playing for Hong Kong. I thought they did really well at the Sevens.

 

It’s a long‑term process to improve a team. It’s not something where we can do a couple of training sessions and everything’s fine. I think it starts with the development of younger players – getting them involved and developing them. I think this connection with the 200 kids is a good little first step, and I’m sure the HKRFU will keep building those connections.

 

Look, Hong Kong rugby needs to improve and obviously in Asia, Japan is the benchmark and they’ve improved over the last five, six years. It will be a long process, but we’ve got three years to get Hong Kong to a spot where they can be the powerhouse of Asia.

 

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Kahui and Chan (far right) run the kids through a training drill.

You’ve visited Hong Kong before, for the 2008 Bledisloe Cup, but were some of the Chiefs youngsters quite excited to be coming to Hong Kong?

Yeah. Their minds have been blown by Hong Kong – the sights, the sounds, just everything. Hearing a different language and people living in multi‑storey apartments; that’s not what happens at home. I think in every way, the boys have been shocked and they’re excited by it, such as when we had a walk around a market.

 

It’s a really good experience for a bunch of young boys here playing rugby, but also I tried to encourage them when they first arrived to really get out and enjoy the culture, have the food and meet the people. They’ve met some really great people here.

 

You won the World Cup in New Zealand in 2011 and back‑to‑back Super Rugby titles the following two years. How did those two achievements compare?

I think every experience you have is really different. The World Cup was obviously the pinnacle. It’s the pinnacle of world rugby and to be a part of that, and to play in that final at home, was really amazing.

 

During that time, because the whole nation really got behind it, I really felt a connection to New Zealand. I’ve always felt connected to New Zealand, but I think the pride that everybody took in our team and our country was really amazing.

 

With the Chiefs, in both of the seasons we won, I got injured mid-season and wasn’t there to play the finals, so my involvement in the actual winning of the championship was a little bit different.

 

However, the first year, especially, was something really special. We had a lot of new faces we hadn’t had in previous years, and we weren’t expected to do much, but we were really well coached and we had a team that really worked hard for each other.

 

I think the difference between playing Super and the All Blacks is that you get together for a long time in Super Rugby, so you really form some strong connections to each other and to the team, so it really did mean a lot winning the Super Rugby finals.

 

Having played seven seasons for the Chiefs, what makes the franchise special?

Firstly, I’d say off the field there’s a real connection to the province (Waikato), including from sponsors, with the Gallaghers and Waikato Draught … all these sponsors are Waikato brands and support our team.

 

On the field, I think we’ve just got a team that … I’d say it’s no nonsense. I would say no frills, but we’ve got some really talented players like Sonny Bill Williams and Aaron Cruden, who can play all sorts of styles of game. I think we play really fast, really attractive, smart, proper football. I know everyone thinks they do, but obviously I think the Chiefs do it better than anybody.

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