The Hong Kong Rugby Football Union (HKRFU) has
confirmed its squad for the opening HSBC Asian Five Nations match
versus Kazakhstan this weekend in Almaty (Saturday, 23 April
HKRFU National Coach and Head of Performance Dai
Rees commented on the selection saying, “It is the strongest squad
we have assembled in the years that I have been involved and the
result of two years of the work that has gone into developing and
widening the base of players in Hong Kong, which is just as well,
as I believe this year may be the hardest challenge we have had
since the HSBC Asian Five Nations started.”
The team features 19 of the 27 players who beat
the Philippines 74-10 in the first test match between the two
countries on Saturday (16 April). While the win in Manila would
have built some confidence a different challenge awaits in Almaty.
Hong Kong has won two of the three matches
played between the teams since 2008, but neither side has won on
the road. Hong Kong’s last trip to Kazakhstan came in 2009, ending
in a 25 – 6 loss in a tough afternoon for the visitors. Last
season, Hong Kong edged Kazakhstan at Hong Kong Football Club but
the visitors did enough to deny the hosts a crucial bonus point
that left Hong Kong’s world cup fate out of their hands.
The team for Kazakhstan features some familiar
names for local rugby fans like Rowan Varty, who has returned from
playing professionally in Japan’s Top League. Varty will line up
on the wing on Saturday, alongside Valley club-mates winger Salom
Yiu Kam Shing and fullback Ross Armour. New captain Tom McColl
starts at centre as he prepares to make his HSBC Asian Five
Nations debut after a shoulder injury sidelined him last season.
Lee Jones completes the centre pairing while the mercurial Keith
Robertson returns at flyhalf with Peter McKee at scrumhalf.
“It's a great honour leading your country.
Having learned and played most of my rugby here in Hong Kong first
at Stanley Fort Minis then at Kowloon, which is the club where my
father played as well, its even more thrilling,” said Tom McColl.
“It is a great tournament that is getting bigger, not just the
awareness of the tournament but the players and teams are
improving rapidly. It will be a big challenge and playing
Kazakhstan in Kazakhstan will be one of the sternest tests Hong
Kong will face this season. They are physical and have a lot of
size around the field but I think we match them man for man in
terms of our size and our talent levels.”
Given the right playing conditions, never a
certainty in April in Almaty, it is a backline with the potential
to cause the home team defensive woes. But this tie is usually
decided up front and Hong Kong has suitably bulked up for the
Former HKRFU player of the year Pale Tauti comes
in at No. 8 in his first year of eligibility for Hong Kong. He is
joined by flankers Mark Goosen and Nick Hewson in the back row.
The trio will have the job of marking opposition loose forwards
Timur Mashurov, the captain at No. 8, and Anton Rudoy on the
flank. Andrew Li and Alex Ng Wai Shin anchor Brent Taylor in the
front row with the Hong Kong Football Club locking partners
Charles French and Oliver Jones rounding out the line up.
The additions are welcome with Hong Kong
suffering through injuries to Simon Leung, captain of the side in
last year’s A5N; Mark Wright and the Haynes brothers, Ed and
HKRFU Senior Coach Leigh Jones said, “We expect
a big, heavy pack and a very direct game from Kazakhstan and we
need to cope with that. The onus will be on the front five to
produce the kind of ball we need that the back row and players
outside of them can exploit. From what I gather it is a very
partisan crowd and we need to take them out of the game early on.
We do that by controlling possession of the ball right from the
A fast start will be crucial, not just in
Kazakhstan but throughout a campaign that is shaping up to be Hong
Kong’s most challenging year since the start of the HSBC Asian
Five Nations in 2008.
After opening away to Almaty, Hong Kong returns
home to face defending HSBC A5N champions Japan (30 April) who
will be starting their build-up to Rugby World Cup 2011. After
Japan, Hong Kong is back on the road for what promises to be a
raucous welcome in Colombo where Sri Lanka. The Sri Lankans mark
their Top 5 debut with a home opener against the UAE on Saturday
in Colombo. Hong Kong close out the HSBC Asian Five Nations
against the UAE at the Hong Kong Football Club on May 21.
Hong Kong Squad for Kazakhstan
1. Andrew Li (Kowloon) 2. Brent Taylor (Valley)
3. NG Wai Shing, Alex (Valley) 4. Charles French (HKFC) 5. Oliver
Jones (HKFC) 6. Nick Hewson 7. Mark Goosen (Kowloon) 8. Pale Tauti
(DeA) 9. Peter McKee (HKFC) 10. Keith Robertson (DeA) 11. Rowan
Varty (DeA) 12. Lee Jones 13. Tom McColl © 14. YIU Kam Shing,
Salom (Valley) 15. Ross Armour (Valley) 16. Alex Harris (Kowloon)
/ CHIK Man Hon, Alvin (Valley) both travelling due to injury
concerns 17. Pete Spizziri (HKFC) 18. Renaud Chavanis (Valley) 19.
Terence Montgomery (Valley) 20. Tim Alexander (Valley) 21. Jamie
Hood (HKFC) 21. Simon Smith (HKCC).
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