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Rugby Sevens special: the HK player who juggles balls and business

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Salesman Toby Fenn looks forward to the city’s biggest sporting event of the year

There’s no sporting event quite like the Hong Kong Rugby Sevens. The atmosphere, the matches, the beers, the setting and the revelry all make for a unique weekend every year in our city. And so agrees Toby Fenn, who’s hoping he makes the cut for the Hong Kong team at this year’s tournament. The Sai Ying Pun resident, who lives in High Street, is preparing for the big festival of rugby, which takes place between April 7 and 9 at Hong Kong Stadium.

Fenn, who was with the squad in Borneo last weekend training in the heat, is down to the final handful of players trying to make the cut for the team this year. Obviously, the tournament side consists of just seven men but, including substitutes, the coaches, over the next few days, are naming the 12 players who will make up the whole Hong Kong side over the Sevens weekend. Fenn hopes he has a good chance, particularly as he’s just gone part-time at Castlestone Management fund house in Central, where he’s a salesman. This means he’s just been able to go full-time as a sevens rugby player, a move he says had to be made so he could be both a businessman and complete the demanding training needed to be a player in the Sevens.

Fenn was born in Oxford, England, in 1987 and pretty soon moved to South Africa, where he grew up. He says the combination of living in two rugby-mad nations contributed to his passion for the sport as he got older. He later moved back to the UK and lived in Oxford again before studying at Nottingham University, where he did a degree in renewable energy. His dissertation on the course led him to Beijing, his first time in Asia. “I loved Asia so much,” he says, “that I decided to move to Singapore at 22 years old and it was there I started seriously playing rugby again. After two years, I got a call from Hong Kong, where I was part of a team setting up a small office, so I made the move, fell in love with Hong Kong and I’m still here!”

It was 2012 when Fenn checked into our city and he immediately started playing rugby but couldn’t focus too much on the sport as he was working full-time. However, soon enough, the Hong Kong team became interested in the now-29-year-old. There’s a ‘three-year qualification rule’ in our SAR meaning you can’t play for the national side until you’ve been here for that long but Fenn bided his time and, in 2015, he played a few games for the 15-a-side team, gaining his first few international caps. However, he really wanted to play for the sevens side and had to wait until last year to get his call-up. And he did, playing at the grand tournament in Hong Kong Stadium and helping HK to reach the qualifying final in which they were sadly pipped to the posts by Japan.

Fenn, a prop forward for the sevens but a flanker for the 15s, speaks fondly about his experience last year, however he had a major problem: his full-time job made it almost impossible to keep up with the hugely demanding training routine for the Sevens tournament. Sevens players need to be super-fit in comparison to 15s players, so training is practically a full-time job in itself. “During last year’s Sevens,” says Fenn, “I missed some training as I was balancing my job with my team commitments. It was really tough. So, towards the end of last year, with this year’s Sevens on the way, I made the decision to go part-time.”

In January, Fenn officially went part-time for Castlestone, a move he says was fully supported by his boss. It means he’s now full-time for the sevens team. He also has a girlfriend in Singapore so he’s pleased he can now put more time into his overseas relationship. This weekend, Fenn and the sevens team are playing China in Fo Tan and, the following weekend, they’re taking on one of the best sides in the world, Fiji, in our SAR as they make the final preparations ahead of the big tournament. “There’s nothing like the Hong Kong Sevens tournament,” says Fenn. “The atmosphere is amazing. Whether you’re playing on the pitch or on the touchline, the way the ground vibrates and the noise in the air makes it such a special experience. And playing for the Hong Kong team is also amazing. Okay, it is strange singing the Chinese national anthem but I feel like a real Hongkonger on that pitch. The fact there’s different nationalities in the HK team is testament to how our city is a melting pot of cultures.”S

On the business of the tournament, Fenn notes that the Sevens weekend is a ‘key event’ in the development of rugby in the SAR. He also says it helps the entire city’s economy in terms of tourism. “It’s a driving force for rugby development in Hong Kong,” he says. “The money it makes means that Hong Kong clubs can be provided with funding throughout the year. It aids male and female rugby players in all age groups, also helping to promote the culture of rugby in the city. It’s such an important event.” Fenn adds that playing in the sevens side also actually helps with his business as a salesman. “Some of my clients are coming to watch the Sevens,” he says, “and some clients really respond to the fact I’m an international rugby player. It’s all part of the sales pitch!”

Fenn, who says he moved to Sai Ying Pun at the same time he went part-time because he wanted to be in ‘such an up-and-coming community’, reckons, as he hits 30 this year, he’s got about two-and-a-half years of international rugby left in him. “Then bits of me will start breaking and smoke will start coming out of the engine,” he jokes. “But, well into the future, as I’m happy with my job at the moment, I’d like to get back into the renewable energy field and see what I can do there in Hong Kong. I want to do some good in the world one day. But, for the upcoming Sevens, I want to do some good in sporting terms for Hong Kong!”

The Hong Kong Sevens are on between April 7 and 9 at Hong Kong Stadium, with tons of associated events happening across the city at the same time. Head to for more hksevens.com details.

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