Rwanda's Hong Kong legacy to aid development

(IRB.COM) Wednesday 7 April 2010
 Rwanda's Hong Kong legacy to aid development
John Kirwan was part of the HSBC Penguins team working with the Rwandan players in Hong Kong

Samoa may have grabbed the headlines with their IRB Sevens World Series success in Hong Kong last month, but the Rwandan national team made their own piece of history by playing in the Kowloon Tens leading up to the iconic tournament.

For many of the players who made the long trip from East Africa to Hong Kong to play for the Silverbacks - as the national team are known after Rwanda's signature mountain gorillas - it was their first time on a plane and to also see the sea.

However, the trip was not only a chance to play in the Kowloon RugbyFest and witness the world's best nations in action at the Cathay Pacific/Credit Suisse Hong Kong Sevens, but also a key element in their rugby development.

The team spent time in the classroom as part of their IRB Rugby Ready course, which was taught by the HSBC Penguins who are coaching in Hong Kong in the build up to the recent HSBC Asian 5 Nations launch.

The two-day course - which involves classroom teaching and practical sessions on the pitch - was run at the Hong Kong Football Club and will enable the players to coach on their return to Rwanda, helping to develop rugby in the African country.

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All Black legend and current Japan coach John Kirwan was on hand to lead the session, which he admitted had been "fantastic" and "what rugby is all about".

"These young men are good athletes and have picked up the fundamentals of coaching well. Importantly, they'll be taking these skills and experience back to Rwanda to help grow the game there," explained Kirwan, an HSBC Ambassador.

"Both from the perspective of the sport and in a more personal and social sense this is important. Rugby will give the youth of Rwanda a means of expressing themselves and a way of putting the past behind them. For me, that is what rugby is all about.

"There has been a real mixture of culture and languages here. The Rwandans have been conversing in their own language and the coaching has been delivered in English and French, but at the end of the day, rugby is a global language - it speaks every language through its actions and the practical session has been really valuable in that respect."

Rwanda captain Djama Adams Mugabo was under no illusions as to the benefits of this course and the trip to Hong Kong as the Silverbacks set their ambitions high with the dream to emulate the success of Kenya on the IRB Sevens circuit.

"I am speechless about this experience. Seeing the ocean, this beautiful city, experiencing playing on artificial pitches and being given the opportunity both to play and be coached as players and coaches ourselves.

"We realise that there is a real opportunity for a rugby legacy in Rwanda and it will be inspiring to go back to our small towns and see what we have learned and what we can pass on to others.

"Rugby will be more famous in Rwanda as a result of this trip and that will lead to more knowledge and more players joining us. I think the Sevens game is perfect for us. We are not big but we are fast. We can run and sidestep well and our dream is to become better than the Kenyans and more serious contenders on the world stage."

Spreading the rugby gospel

The opening day of the course was more classroom based and theory based, but on the second day they were learning to coach a team of Japanese girls that were very new to the game, presenting them not only a challenge from a rugby perspective but also a cultural and language one.

"It is our aim to have every single player qualified as a certified IRB Rugby Ready coach by the end of the day and for them to take the skills and experience they learn back to Rwanda with them," explained Dean Herewini, the HSBC Coaching Academy Coach Educator from New Zealand.

"There is a 10 million population in Rwanda and within that population a pool of five million potential rugby players. It would be a dream come true to help the Rwandan team start to realise that potential within their home country through initiatives like this.

"The HSBC Penguins Coaching Academy is all about spreading the rugby gospel - passing on a passion and knowledge of the game around the world - and days like this are exactly what we are about.

"We plan to visit Rwanda later this year or next and to continue to help bring the next generation of Rwandan players and coaches through. This is the first step of that journey."

The HSBC Penguins will continue with coaching clinics throughout Asia over the next couple of months, led by former Scotland coach Frank Hadden who will be visiting 12 countries across Asia - including Cambodia, Laos, Nepal and Indonesia - and coaching children of all ages.