How a French legend found his love for Rugby right here in Hong Kong
21 April, 2020BACK TO NEWS
Famed journalist and author Nury Vittachi once coined ‘You can leave Hong Kong, but it will never leave you’ which once again rings true in this story.
Hong Kong is fast earning its stripes as a breeding ground for some of the world’s top rugby players. Close friends of the Hong Kong Rugby Union and ambassadors of our Community Foundation, Scottish legends John Barclay and Graeme Morrison both cut their teeth in our mini rugby set up, along with Harlequins Tom Williams and Nathan Earle.
But there’s a new kid on the block. With 37 caps for France and 200 appearances for ASM Clermont Auvergne, we recently learnt that Benjamin Kayser found his love for rugby right here in the Fragrant Harbour. Following his recent appearance on James Haskell, Alex Payne and Mike Tindall’s infamous ‘House of Rugby’ podcast, we reached out to Ben to find out more about his early life in Hong Kong.
Born 26 July 1984 in Paris, the Kayser family travelled often, which in 1996 brought them here to Hong Kong, followed by Beijing and Shanghai, before returning to his motherland. During his time in Hong Kong, Kayser speaks fondly of his first ever Rugby Coach and PE teacher, Stuart ‘Moose’ Krohn. Speaking of Kayser, Krohn remembers ‘a stocky young kid with curly hair and a proud papa, who was very quiet but very good at rugby’.
Krohn currently resides in Los Angeles but has had a stellar career as previous Hong Kong National #8 and captain, in addition to run outs for Stade Toulousain (where he won the French Championship) and UC Santa Barbara, whilst proving his strength as a coach at both Dartmouth College and Santa Monica. One of his most treasured memories was during his time with UC Santa Barbara, travelling the globe from New Zealand to South Africa, and back here to Hong Kong where he took to the pitch in front of his former FIS students and Valley teammates.
In 2003 Krohn started what he describes as ‘the pinnacle of [his] rugby career’ and ‘the greatest blessing of [his] life’ in the form of the ICEF inner-city rugby programme in South Central Los Angeles. The programme introduces rugby to inner-city high school boys and girls, providing opportunities for world travel to compete against international teams, encouraging growth in confidence, careers and families.
On the programme, Krohn remarks ‘I want the world to know about these kids and how exceptional they are, against the odds, so that it will inspire other kids who are marginalized, and inspire other people to get involved with the youth.’
With a mentor such as Stuart Krohn making an impact so early on in Kayser’s playing career, it comes as no surprise that Krohn’s mentality and teachings have stuck with him – ‘I guess I have to thank [Stuart] first for introducing me to this incredible sport, those sets of values and way of conducting yourself that shaped that man I am today.’
Kayser fondly recollects his time in Hong Kong as igniting his love for rugby, noting that Hong Kong Sevens was the ‘National Sport’, remembering in particular a stellar All Blacks side who took the silverware at the Hong Kong Sevens that year comprising the likes of Jonah Lomu, Christian Cullen and Eric Rush. Kayser was lucky to have a role as ball boy and remembers handing a ball to Lomu, earning his autograph.
Remembering back to his very early introduction to the sport, Kayser maintains that the draw of rugby was in the bravery – ‘you can be the smallest and skinniest guy and can’t tackle for s***, but you throw yourself at the knees of the biggest guy on the pitch – that’s true bravery.’
Once back in France, Kayser’s career spiralled tenfold, starting at Stade Francais (to which he gives thanks for his introduction to Stanislas Romer, another FIS alumni), a short two season interlude at Leicester Tigers from 2007-9, before moving back to France to finish with a 10 year stay at ASM Clermont competing in the French Top 14. His international accolades are just as impressive, gaining his first cap for France in the Summer of 2008 in a tour against Australia, before securing another 36 caps for his home country, along with an appearance for the Barbarians in their celebrated 2018 win against England at Twickenham.
After two neck operations and a stern talking to from his doctor, this year Kayser decided to retire from professional sport and will be moving to Tunbridge Wells with his wife and two daughters in the summer. Keeping himself busy, Kayser has his fingers in a lot of pies - he’s a successful business owner of Eden Park shops, a TV commentator, and has recently enrolled as an Executive MBA student at Oxford University – a move to which Haskell commentated ‘not only does he have a sexy French accent but he’s also unbelievably intelligent – is there anything he can’t do?!’
So, there you have it, two legends of the game connected through a shared history of Hong Kong youth rugby, and back in touch again 20 years on. We look forward to following the fantastic work that Stuart and the ICEF are doing and will of course be taking tips for our own Hong Kong Rugby Union Community Foundation. We also wish Benjamin the best of luck in his post-playing career, and hope to see them both in Hong Kong for a reunion very soon.