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Hong Kong Names Squad for HSBC Asian Five Nations Opener in Almaty, Kazakhstan

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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 2011).

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 occasion.

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 Anthony.

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 early stages.”

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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