23 Nov 2018

The Hong Kong Rugby Union has announced the team to play Canada tonight in the final match of the Rugby World Cup 2019 repechage tournament in Marseille, France (0400 Saturday morning Hong Kong time). 

Hong Kong need a win and a bonus point - for scoring four tries or more - and also have to prevent Canada from securing a bonus point for a loss within seven points - to advance to next year’s world championship.

It is an uphill challenge given Canada have looked imposing in the repechage, claiming bonus point wins from Kenya and Germany, as they look to secure a place next year in Japan and continue a proud tradition of qualifying for every Rugby World Cup since the first in 1987.

Some calculated risk-taking will be needed according to Dai Rees, Chief Rugby Operations Officer at the HKRU, who believes that the reward is well worth it.

“We have made changes to the squad again and have taken some chances along the route in our selection and learned some important lessons for this game. We want a squad that can come in with high energy.

“Canada have played basically the same squad both games, while we have had a different line-up each time, and have now been able to use everyone. We’re confident that if we bring that energy and are in it at half time, then the game will look after itself.

“It’s going to take a ten-out-of-ten performance but we have prepared with specificity for Canada and are hoping that this group brings energy and takes some risks to qualify.

“The reward is to come off with a victory and four tries. We aren’t coming in just looking for a win, we’re going in with a game plan to qualify for the World Cup.”

The need to first establish parity with physical Canadians has seen Hong Kong revert to its heavy unit, with a selection that resembles the squad named against Germany. 

Reflecting the balancing act required in needing both a supercharged attack and a spotless defence, Hong Kong has called up two players from the wider travel squad as injury cover, with 6’7”, 15-stone lock Craig Lodge earning the start - and his first Hong Kong cap - in a high-pressure situation, while scrumhalf Jamie Lauder moves to the reserves bench.

The inclusion of Lodge into the second row alongside Fin Field forces captain James Cunningham to the flank, where he frequently plays for his club Kowloon, adding more muscle to what has already been an impactful back row with No.8 Thomas Lamboley and flanker Toby Fenn productive both offensively and defensively in France.

The starting front row against Germany, loosehead prop Dan Barlow, hooker Dayne Jans and tight head prop Grant Kemp, will man the coalface to start against Canada. Nick Hewson and Michael Parfitt have been named as backrow reserves, with props Ben Higgins and Jack Parfitt and reserve hooker and former U20s captain, Alexander Post, making his first match appearance in France, shoring up the tight five.

“Bringing a guy like Craig, who is 6’7”, 6’8”, on to the park, and moving JC [James Cunningham], another 6’4” big man, into the back row, will help us better combat Canada’s size and strength early on,” said Rees.

“We need to bring a lot of power and strength in the first half, but we’re also in it for the long haul, and are hoping that if we can keep close entering the last 30 minutes or so, then the tries will start to come,” Rees added.

Hong Kong will look to its ever dangerous backs to capitalize on what is hoped will be a flagging Canadian defence in Marseille, with another 6’7” behemoth in winger Conor Hartley eager to get the ball in hand more than in his first outing against Germany.  Hartley’s physicality should present a jarring contrast for the Canadians with his silky back-three partners Salom Yiu and Casey Stone at full-back.

Typifying the energy Hong Kong selectors are after is Liam Slatem, the cagey scrumhalf who gets the start over Lauder and Jamie Hood, both capable nines in their own rights, while steady fly-half Matt Rosslee anchors the backline and looks to continue what has been a fruitful tournament with the boot.

The centre pairing of Ben Axten-Burrett and Tyler Spitz also gets another run after testing well against Kenya.

Utility backs Jamie Hood and Jamie Lauder provide attacking threats at every position across the backline, while the direct running of reserve centre Max Woodward should further help break down the Canadian defence late in the game.

Rees complimented the call-ups for the impact they have had, saying, “It’s been tough for both of them. They weren’t selected in the original 30, and now they get this huge opportunity for the last game, but they’ve come in and added energy for us.

“Alex Post as well, they have all come in and contributed, and the entire 35-man travel squad has been tremendous in supporting the group as well. You couldn’t ask for more from any of the players or management.

“One of the true tests of a group is how they handle themselves on tour. Here we are five and a half weeks away from home and the energy level is as high as it was when we left. The camaraderie and the professionalism the players and coaches have displayed should make all of Hong Kong proud,” Rees added.

Editor’s Notes:


Hong Kong squad v Canada

RWC 2019 Repechage, Marseille, 23 November

1. Dan BARLOW, 2. Dayne JANS, 3. Grant KEMP, 4. Craig LODGE, 5. Finlay FIELD, 6. James CUNNINGHAM ©, 7. Toby FENN, 8. Thomas LAMBOLEY, 9. Liam SLATEM, 10. Matt ROSSLEE, 11. Conor HARTLEY 12. Ben AXTEN-BURRETT 13. Tyler SPITZ, 14. YIU Kam-Shing, Salom 15. Casey STONE. 16. Alexander POST, 17. Ben HIGGINS, 18. Jack PARFITT, 19. Michael PARFITT, 20. Nick HEWSON, 21. Jamie LAUDER 22. Jamie HOOD, 23. Max WOODWARD