Originally "Former Scotland U-18s captain Euan McLaren ready to make his mark in Hong Kong rugby adventure" by Andrew McNicol, South China Morning Post, Sep 25th 2020
Former Scotland U-18s captain Euan McLaren spent his first two weeks in Hong Kong staring at the newfangled skyscrapers through a window as he counted down his days of mandatory quarantine.
It was the first time the 21-year-old tight head prop, who signed for DAC Kowloon RFC ahead of the 2020-21 Saxo Markets Men’s Premiership season, has visited Asia.
“This is the first time I’ve been this side of the world – it’s very different. It was pretty surreal coming here and going through the airport, obviously wearing a mask, before getting to my flat. I thought the procedures were really professional,” said McLaren.
“It was quite tough getting through two weeks of not being able to go outside and often looking out the window and seeing everything go by – sitting there and not really experiencing it. Now I’ve been out and about and a lot of the guys have been helping me get set up. The club have been great getting me out here and settling me in. I look forward to repaying them with some good results this season.” Born in Paisley, west Scotland, McLaren has represented Scotland up to U-20s level, making the squads at last year’s World Rugby Championship and Six Nations.
Although McLaren, like many of his peers, has been in recent months stuck indoors wishing the pandemic away, he had spent the last couple of seasons with the Glasgow Warriors Academy (alongside the Scotland set-up) and Ayr RFC. So why Hong Kong – and why now? “I finished my contract with Glasgow in May and was looking at the market for potential places to go next. It was about getting game time and Hong Kong was one of the first places to get back. I had a look at the games and the standard and it looked a good level – I thought why not give it a shot for a season and see where it takes me,” said McLaren, who stands at 1.91 metres. The converted No 8 said his new Kowloon teammates can expect a “pretty good standard” of ball-handling skills – that is, for a forward – and serious strength and mobility on and off the ball. “I’m quite a dynamic ball-carrier. Hopefully, I can make a bit of difference to Kowloon,” he said. McLaren joins an influx of Scottish players plying their trade in the East. While he can only speak for his own situation, McLaren cited the national first team’s competitive bottleneck and its resultant Super 6 competition tailored for semi-pro Scottish clubs. “Obviously, I can only speak for the Glasgow set-up having experienced it, but there are only two professional teams in Scotland. They’re at a really good level, competing for European cups – Edinburgh doing particularly well the season that’s just finished. It’s really tight for spaces and they want a lot of the young players to go out and play Super 6 rugby and the standard or gap between that and the pro league isn’t very close,” he said. “I think a lot of young pros trying to break into the first team are finding it tough to get regular competitive game time. Young guys are looking for good quality game time. That’s my thinking behind it, anyway.”
And while swapping familiar Scotland for hot and humid Hong Kong may appear drastic, McLaren actually spent much of his formative school years in Dubai for his father’s work. “There is no comparison at all. Paisley is an old town and has not got very much going on – it’s like a Glasgow overspill town. I come to Hong Kong and it’s just non-stop, people everywhere, absolutely crazy,” he said, laughing. “I’m really grateful that rugby gave me the opportunity to travel. I lived in Paisley for six years, then moved to Dubai, then finished my last two years of secondary school back in Scotland. I didn’t actually know what rugby was until I was in Dubai – I was more interested in football in Scotland – but rugby was the main sport for the boys at these international schools.”
Upon returning home as an aspiring rugby youth, McLaren attended a training camp for Scotland-qualified English players. He was soon snapped up by the renowned Dollar Academy, paving a way into the official Scotland youth set-up.
He captained the national U-18s team and featured for the U-20s the following year. However, these proud milestones were interrupted by a string of injuries, seriously halting McLaren’s trajectory. “I had a really bad year with injuries and missed out on the Six Nations and World Cup, although being in both squads,” he said. “For my last year as a U-20, I was really grateful to be selected and played a lot of games, but it’s been a crazy couple of years.
“Dealing with injuries was really tough because you go from being really fit and involved in the sessions, to being pulled out. Then going through the weeks and months of rehab, getting back fitter and stronger, only to be pulled back again from another injury. “Mentally, it was quite straining, but it’s no comparison to coming back to playing and winning. Winning the cup and league with Ayr in my second year of U-20s was definitely worth all the aches and pains.” Prior to pulling on his claret Kowloon jersey, McLaren made sure to contact Hong Kong-born Scotland U-20s player Cameron Henderson for insight. “We met when we were playing in the U-16s so we go quite far back. When I told him I was going to Hong Kong, he phoned me straight away to congratulate me, told me it was an amazing place and that the rugby is good there. I’m just so excited to play for Kowloon,” McLaren said.
Henderson assured Hong Kong Premiership fans they have a serious player on their hands. “Euan has been really unlucky with injuries over the past couple of years, but when he’s fully fit he’s a very difficult man to stop, and very mobile around the pitch,” Henderson said.
“Going out to Hong Kong, I’m sure he’s going to rediscover his love for rugby that he said he wanted to regather. I told him to enjoy it because Hong Kong is an unbelievable city. I’ll be back to catch up with him at some point.”