One of the greatest experiences of my life was living in Hong Kong for 4 years, straight out of Uni from 2001 – 2005. It was a land of opportunity and the people I met have had an amazing impact on my life. I have been extremely lucky to have been given the opportunities I have, this one, was both unexpected and fabulous. It still feels a lot like home, and I love going back.
This game is my #FavouriteSocialNetwork. Before leaving for Asia in 2001, I’d played in the USA for the Albany Knickerbockers, in New Zealand for Te Rapa, toured to Canada with my school, guested for my big brother’s team Reus in Spain, played some age group representative rugby and played with players from all over the globe in #Clubland for both Gala and Watsonians. Me! A wee lad from the Scottish Borders. But my tale isn’t unique.
I love meeting new people, rugby was, and still is, my favourite vehicle for this. I love being in rugby clubs, surrounded by rugby folk, it’s amazing how sharing that same interest can spark conversations that can lead in many different directions, and often the number of mutual mates you can find with strangers is staggering. And more opportunities can often be presented in these situations. I love it.
In Hong Kong I played with paupers and Kings. It was an amazing melting pot of nationalities, cultures, backgrounds and experience. I was like a kid in a candy store. My club, Kowloon, had been through a tough time when I arrived. My first training session was a bleep test, outside on astro turf tennis courts in the shadow of Hong Kong stadium, in the August humidity. My first game was midweek against HKFC at So Kon Po. I didn’t know or understand at the time the rivalries or histories. We won, I dropped a goal with my left foot and life seemed pretty much perfect. We didn’t win another game that season! But I loved it.
In an attempt to strengthen the squad, we brought in players from New Zealand in my second season. Rob T was an absolute legend in Wellington. He was a Poneke boy but had played for Johnsonville. He’d been involved with Wellington, he was hard. He demanded a lot, played at number 8, had all the skills and was a leader of men. He was awkward and annoying, but he was awesome to have on your team. We had Shannon and Joe and Maafu and Muzza who all brought energy and skill and enthusiasm to the club and upped the performances and challenged us to get better. It was an exciting time and one I loved.
We also had Misiluni Moananu. You fell in love with Luni as soon as you met him. He was huge, you didn’t have to guess when you met him that he was a prop. He loved the game. But more than that, he loved the boys he played with. He was one of the first players I ever heard talking about being a ‘Band of Brothers’. We were the ‘Kowloon Family’. He had the softest voice and cared with every word he spoke. I loved when we were up, or down, behind the posts, before, half time or after the game and he would lift up his HUGE arms and say ‘come in my Kowloon brothers’. It was immense.
He would go into a speech about what was needed, it was a team talk and a sermon all rolled into one. We were in the midst of setting up a development team, for local Chinese kids to get involved in the game and to grow the club. Luni was like a Rockstar, but he was close enough to touch. They all loved him. He took time to coach them, gave them feedback, made them smile and spread some of his charm on them that kept them coming back again and again. He made them feel welcome and valued, that’s a skill. His kindness shone out of him.
was on first name terms with most of the people that worked in the McDonald’s near his flat, when Maafu, Rob and he walked in they would clear the place making sure whoever came in after was guaranteed freshly made burgers because those 3 had emptied the shelves! Hungry boys. During the day they often filled their time playing pick-up games of Bball against some locals on the hard courts in the playgrounds of Wan Chai. I’d love to have heard the chat in the homes of the boys they had played against that night, I bet their families thought they had been drinking.
He was a star of the Miss Kowloon Beauty Pageant, that story is probably best to be left there! He was a star in the South Stand at the 7s and the kinda guy you wanted to spend time with, well-mannered and kind, but when you played against him, if you got in his way, OUCH. I can remember at So Kon Po Luni crashing around the corner off 9, just inside me and thinking ‘good luck tackling that’ – he ran hard every time he got his hands on the ball and loved to scrum.
In 2015, when I was coaching Boroughmuir, we were playing away against Glasgow Hawks and I saw Duncan Beattie wearing a Poneke t-shirt. I spoke to him and he was telling me about his sons, Kenneth and Robert playing in NZ. I asked if he had met Luni. Of course, he had. We started to swap Luni stories.
He had arrived in NZ and the boys were training indoors. He went to watch training and this giant approached him to ask if he could help. He explained that he was dad to the Scottish lads in the squad. Luni wrapped his arms around him and welcomed him to the Poneke family. That was Luni. And there we were, in Glasgow, talking about the big man. We sent him the picture and hoped it made him smile.
Luni saw the best in people, the best in the world. Rugby gave him the chance to travel, like it has for many before and after him. It gave him a chance to meet people and spread his happiness into the world. I was lucky that the stars aligned, and we met in Hong Kong.
I think of the big man often. And every year, on 23rd March his birthday alert on Facebook pops up. That’s what happened a few days ago. I love to read the comments from people I know, and people I’ve never met. Luni was and still is, a special human to all who knew him. Although I feel sad, I also feel glad I got to meet the big man and I’m reminded of one of my favourite things to hear, ‘Shot Aitchy’. Made me feel 10-foot-tall and filled my heart. Spending the weekend in Manila, as part of my Stag Do, and getting to the final of the 10s is one of my happiest rugby memories. Luni was there. It was like the ‘Hangover’, but with rugby.
The big man died in 2015 in Wellington, 10years after I’d left HK. I wasn’t at his funeral, but there was a crowd that was too big for the church. He had influenced so many, in Wellington, in Hong Kong and in Scotland. If we had more Misiluni Moananu’s the world would be a better place. Life is better for having met some folk and calling Luni my friend means a lot to me. I loved my Kowloon brother, and still do. Shot Luni.
Happiness is Egg Shaped