Englishman makes friends on rugby field in SZ

Ben Tomkinson

Ben Tomlinson started playing rugby when he was 8. The full-contact sport has colored his life in China as he plays for a Shenzhen-based rugby club in his spare time.

The 25-year-old from the United Kingdom has worked as an English teacher at Futian Foreign Language School of Shenzhen since July last year. He joined the Shenzhen Dragons, a rugby club mainly consisting of expat players, after he settled in the city.

The rugby club, which is sponsored by several foreign-funded brands, has played against other rugby clubs in Guangzhou, Xiamen, Fuzhou, Hong Kong and other cities around China.

“We were the best team last year. We won an All-China cup and the South China league,” Tomkinson said.

According to Tomkinson, the rugby team was founded by a group of expats six years ago and is the newest rugby club in South China. He added that anyone is welcome to join the club as a social member or a player regardless of age or ability, but they have to pay an annual membership fee ranging from 200 to 800 yuan (US$30.77 to US$123).

“We train ourselves. We don’t have a coach,” he said, adding that the routine trainings were held twice a week in Nanshan and Futian districts. The club also has a women’s rugby team, while rugby training courses for children have been held every Saturday beginning two months ago.

“A small guy could be fast, so he can run away,” he said, adding that playing rugby is not just about the size of a player.

In the club Tomkinson makes lots of close friends, with whom he trains, plays and organizes rugby courses and tournaments.

“We started the child trainings together as a group idea. It’s not like a random guy saying we have to do this. It’s our own initiative,” he added.

Tomkinson said that as an international tradition of rugby games, players of two rival teams always wear their own specially designed costumes in after-parties. He has seen a whole team dressed up as ninjas, Sponge Bobs or Elvises.

Rugby is not the only sport that Tomkinson plays. He started playing soccer when he was 5 and learned how to play cricket when he was 10. Although he said he was too old to be a professional rugby player, his passion for sports may never fade.