22nd Apr 2016

Hong Kong Rugby Union national fifteens coach Leigh Jones has named a 31-man squad to contest the Asia Rugby Championship (ARC) at the end of the month.

The first test for the Hong Kong squad will be on Saturday when Hong Kong take on the development team of Super Rugby side The Chiefs at Hong Kong Football Club (kick-off at 15.45).

That match will also mark Jones’s first match in charge of the national XV since his return from a coaching stint with Japan last year ahead of the Rugby World Cup.

Jones has selected what he termed a “balanced squad” for the region’s championship campaign that will see Hong Kong play in a tri-nation series with Asian champions Japan and South Korea. Hong Kong finished as runners-up to Japan in last year’s competition.

“It is a balanced squad and the players have been working very hard for the past few months to prepare for the Asian championship. I have chosen very much based on what I have seen since Christmas when I came back from the Rugby World Cup and have selected on form and not on reputation,” Jones said.

The squad features three potential debutants. Two play for Societe Generale Valley: Ben Higgins and Ryan Meacheam, who is in line to make his fifteen-a-side debut after being selected for Hong Kong at the Cathay Pacific/HSBC Hong Kong Sevens earlier this month.

“Ben was outstanding for a very good Valley team this year. He was consistently in the starting 23 for them and has very much earned his place in the wider squad. Ryan is another consistent player who has been one of the standout performers in Hong Kong Premiership rugby since his arrival.”

Jones has also given an opportunity to Borrelli Walsh USRC Tigers lock Henjo van Niekerk saying, “Henjo is a big guy, which can be difficult to come by in Hong Kong. He is very fit and athletic for his size and we wanted to give him this opportunity to see what he can make of it over the coming months.”

League and Grand Championship winners Valley lead the club stakes with 12 Premiership players in the 32-man squad, followed by Leighton Asia Hong Kong Cricket Club, runners-up in both contests this season, with eight. Natixis Hong Kong Football Club has four players in the squad, followed by Tigers and Bloomberg Hong Kong Scottish with three apiece and Sabre Kowloon with two.

The squad will again be captained by Valley back-rower Nick Hewson and features a number of familiar faces from Hong Kong’s sevens set-up with 10 of the 12 players selected for the Hong Kong Sevens earlier this month involved.

Higgins will join a surprising plethora of front-row forwards including Leon Wei Hon Sum, Alex Ng Wai Shing, Jamie Tsang, Jack Parfitt, Tony Wong Ho Yeung and Rohan Cook alongside specialist hooker Lachlan Chubb with Alex Harris sidelined by injury.

Paul Dwyer, Jack Delaforce, Adrian Griffiths and van Niekerk will make up the lock combinations with Hewson, Matt Lamming, Dan Falvey and Toby Fenn and James Cunningham, both of whom were also selected in the sevens side earlier this month, providing the backrow firepower.

Niall Rowark, Ed Rolston, Lex Kaleca, Jamie Robinson, Tom McColl and Tyler Spitz round out the backline after the inclusion of Meacheam, Rowan Varty, Jamie Hood, Alex McQueen, Ben Rimene, Cado Lee Ka To, Salom Yiu Kam Shing and Lee Jones from the sevens set-up.

The squad have been in training for the past few months and will finalise their preparations with a hit-out against Super Rugby side The Chiefs’ development squad visiting Hong Kong this week. Saturday’s match will conclude a fruitful week of joint training and preparations for both sides on The Chief’s development team’s second visit to the SAR in as many years.

The Chiefs visit included training with the HKRU’s new Elite Rugby Programme players at the Elite Rugby Training Centre at THEi as well as a conditioned training match on Wednesday evening (20 April).

That training match offered further lessons for Jones and his team ahead of Saturday’s full-on clash with the Chiefs.

“The Chiefs look very strong and very competitive. They have a lot of young players with a good pedigree, 17 of them having played in this year’s ITM Cup in New Zealand. Saturday will be a difficult but important test for us as we look ahead to the ARC.”

The interaction with the Chiefs has again been a huge positive for Hong Kong’s build-up to the regional championship according to Jones who said, “Without opportunities like we have had this week with the Chiefs it is difficult to accurately gauge where we are in our preparations.

“Having live opposition of The Chiefs’ calibre in Hong Kong has helped us tremendously, particularly in our focus on the set piece and our ability to generate momentum by providing a good platform for our backs and ensuring that we cross the gain-line,” Jones added.

Jones sees Saturday’s hit-out, which will see both teams fielding an expanded bench of 26 players as opposed to 23, as a vital benchmark of Hong Kong’s progress.

“The Chiefs will be a big test for us. They are a level up and probably more proficient than anyone we will play against in the Asian championship, so this week’s training and Saturday’s match are ideal preparations for the challenge ahead,” concluded Jones.