Kwok Ka-chun aka ‘Dog’

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Hong Kong Rugby Sevens player

When you meet Kwok Ka-chun, you meet a giant. A gentle giant, mind – but one big man nevertheless.

Ka-chun, affectionately known as ‘Dog’ by his team-mates and fans, stands at six-feet-four-inches high and, at 105kg, is built like a brick. The 27-year-old is one of the stars of the Hong Kong Rugby Sevens team, which the home crowd is rooting for in this year’s tournament between March 22 and 24 at Hong Kong Stadium. He plays prop – a true ‘hard man’ role – and is expected to set the field alight when the tournament kicks off in earnest. Which is handy, really, because, by day, Dog is a firefighter.

Dog has enjoyed a year of popularity in the SAR. Hong Kong made history last year with a first-ever HSBC Asian Sevens Series win (after battering Japan in Mumbai) and the born-and-bred local boy has been basking in the glory. But now, he and his team-mates are focused on the HK Sevens tournament, where they face stiff competition. Despite the challenges ahead, Dog is as humble and timid as his physical presence is commanding.

Ever since he can remember, he’s been nicknamed ‘Dog’, thanks to an auspicious birthday on the ninth day of the ninth lunar month (nine in Cantonese – ‘gau’ – sounds like the word for dog). It was a childhood which was a world away from the world of rugby, he says. “We didn’t have a lot of money when I was growing up,” he remembers. “We lived on our family boat and used to go out to sea to fish. That’s how we made our living.” Although his family left its ‘boat people’ community out in the rural climes when he was a young boy, Dog cherishes those early years. “I was never far away from the sea growing up,” he says.

Dog’s ascention in local rugby was a fast one. Within a year of first trying the rough and tumble sport he was already tapped up for the Hong Kong Under-19s team and competed in the Junior Rugby World Cup the following year, aged just 18. However, that’s quite a late introduction by rugby standards. “It was love at first sight,” he says. “One of my mentors in school saw my potential and recommended that I try tap rugby [the same game but no daredevil tackling allowed] and that led to tackle rugby [the full-blown sport].” Dog says he viewed rugby at first as ‘just another sport’ he played on top of basketball, football, dragon boating and rowing – but soon he was hooked and rugby eclipsed all. “I found it very exciting,” he says. “It was different to other sports where you get fouled for physical contact. And then there was the game planning, teamwork and respect which is involved.”

As last year’s Asian champions, the Hong Kong team is just one step away from being eligible to compete in the HSBC Sevens World Series. That’s a huge achievement for our little SAR. But Sevens rugby is not a professional sport, so our players haven’t given up their day jobs. And Dog’s role as a firefighter is the perfect complement to rugby – it’s physical and strategic – but the star admits that his hectic schedule doesn’t leave time for much else. “I don’t socialise as much as I’d like to,” he says. “Actually, most of my free time is spent catching up on sleep and watching TV.”

This Dog’s a puppy, really. He admits to being ‘shy’ – however, he may have to do more socialising than usual this fortnight due to his key role in the HK team and the publicity surrounding the Sevens. But being a role model is something close to home for Dog. “My younger sister does look up to me because she also plays rugby,” he admits. Being recognised by the public doesn’t bother him either, as long as it serves a larger cause. “I don’t want to be recognised for myself,” he says, “but rather as a symbol for Chinese players in the sport. If we can show that rugby is not just for the expats, we can encourage more local kids to start playing.”

Dog – recently married (sorry, ladies…) – says he sometimes appears ‘cold’ to people who don’t know him. “It can take a while for me to warm up to people,” he says. As an ambassador for local talent in rugby, though, his sportsmanship and good nature have brought him fans. And we’re hoping he gets more this fortnight. We’ve heard Dog’s bark. Now we’re looking forward to his bite… Li Meng de Bakker 

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