Yalla Rugby is saddened to report of the death of revered former Bahrain RFC head coach, Jim Rowark, who passed away in the UK over the weekend, following a hard-fought battle with cancer.
Rowark guided Bahrain’s first XV to the Gulf Cup in 2009 and the Arabian Gulf Premiership title the following season and was still putting the club’s vets through their paces up until only a few months ago.
His passing will be particularly hard felt in Hong Kong, where the Yorkshireman is a legend in rugby circles, and widely regarded as the national team’s most successful sevens coach.
A no-nonsense flanker in his playing days, Jim lined out for Old Thornensians and won Blues in both rugby and boxing while at Cambridge University.
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His work as a teacher took him to the famous Redruth club in Cornwall and then on to Hong Kong in 1977, where he represented Hong Kong Football Club (HKFC).
Rowark moved into coaching at the same club after hanging up his boots in 1983 and was appointed coach of the national 15s and 7s teams in 1987, heralding a period of unprecedented success.
Among the standouts of his tenure were leading the home team to the Plate title at the Hong Kong Sevens events of 1990 and 1992, as well as qualification for the Cup competition in 1989.
Returning to club rugby with Kowloon in 1992 and then another spell coaching HKFC, Rowark was lured back to the hotseat of the national sevens team role in 1997 and led them to the Rugby World Cup Sevens in Argentina in 2001.
After a period as Director of Coaching for the HKRFU, he was made an Honorary Life Member of the union in 2006 and inducted into its Hall of Fame in 2015.
Jim had looked forward to retirement and working on his golf handicap when he moved to Bahrain in 2008 and even his role in helping his new club to prepare for that year’s Dubai Sevens was only supposed to be a temporary one.
Thankfully for a squad full of talent but lacking in application, Rowark was tempted back to training in the new year and duly led the first XV to a late season run and a first major trophy in seven years after defeating the Hurricanes away from home in the Gulf Cup Final.
The following season was to be even better for Rowark and co as they dominated the league, losing only one of 14 games to take the title, and only a heart-breaking one-point defeat to Abu Dhabi Harlequins in the Cup Final denied a domestic double.
Within 12 months, the bulk of that squad had moved on but Rowark stuck to the task and brought through a raft of youngsters from within the club’s youth ranks, before finally stepping down in 2013.
Even then, Jim just couldn’t keep away and he was back on the podium at the Dubai 7s later that year as the Bahrain Colts won the Gulf u19 Plate title. His final role would be in keeping tabs on the Bahrain Golden Oldies for the last number of years, as stern a challenge as he has ever faced in his coaching career, no doubt.
A dedicated educator both on and off the field, Jim is survived by his wife Hilary – a stalwart of Bahrain RFC in her own right – children Iain, Caroline, Craig and Niall, extended family and an extensive circle of friends around the world.