11 May 2018

Hong Kong have stuck with the squad that opened the Asia Rugby Championship (ARC) with a 67-8 win over Malaysia for tomorrow’s tie against South Korea (15.30).

The squad features only one change in the starting fifteen, with Kyle Sullivan moving to the starting lock pairing with captain James Cunningham, while Jamie Pincott moves to the reserves bench. Flyhalf Ben Rimene and back rower Kane Boucaut also rejoin the squad after slight injury lay-offs and will start in the reserves as Hong Kong looks to push its recent mastery over the Koreans to six matches on the trot.

The ARC is the first step for the region’s Rugby World Cup 2019 qualification hopefuls. The ARC winner will advance to the second stage of qualification - a home-and-away series against Cook Islands.  Hong Kong and Korea are currently level at the top of the table after bonus point wins over Malaysia.

Hong Kong has had the upper hand over the Koreans in recent years, winning the last five encounters on the trot, and new captain James Cunningham is expecting the hosts to be out to exact some revenge.

“They are big, physical, and they have a strong set piece. We just have to turn up and do what we did last week - be dominant in our set piece, and play quick footy.

“Korea have big ball carriers who can play from anywhere on the field. They play really well off chaos ball; if the ball is loose they thrive off that. As long as we stop that chaos game, I think we’re going to get a good result.

“Korea are always tough but I’m confident that we can do the job there. It’s going to mean that everyone turns up and does their job individually better than their opponent. If a couple of people in our link don’t turn up they could easily do a job on us, but I’m confident,” he added.

Cunningham is hoping that the conditions on Saturday will allow his side’s professionalism and fitness to come to the fore on Saturday.

“It’s drier in Korea and hopefully the ball sticks to our hands better so we can put a few phases together and run their big boys around the park. If conditions are good, we can really make them work,” he said.

Cunningham was also pleased that the squad from last week’s performance has been kept intact.

“I think the boys performed really well last week, especially the bench, which had a huge impact. We were lucky to have no injuries and other guys are coming back now like Kane Boucaut. Kane is fit now and in the touring party. Hopefully, he’ll get some game time and can do what he does best, which is run those wide channels and do some real damage,” said Cunningham.

Cunningham’s confidence extends to Hong Kong’s ultimate target, the Rugby World Cup qualification process:

“Rugby in Hong Kong has developed so much in the last couple of years. We have world-class facilities, world-class coaches, a great gym and pitches within walking distance. The way the programme has gone and the development over the last two years is really remarkable. The amount of investment into the game is really showing now.

“As players, what we are getting is - if not the same - is even better than a lot of nations - and it is kind of at a place now where we are not far off any professional programme anywhere in the world.

“Hopefully we can do a job in this ARC and get to the Cook Islands game and then we should be in a position to push forward to that final repechage,” added Cunningham.

Hong Kong squad v South Korea:

1. Daniel BARLOW, 2. Benjamin ROBERTS, 3. Dylan ROGERS, 4. James CUNNINGHAM (c), 5. Kyle SULLIVAN, 6. Nicholas HEWSON, 7. Toby FENN, 8. Thomas LAMBOLEY, 9. Liam SLATEM, 10. Matthew ROSSLEE, 11. Max DENMARK, 12. Max WOODWARD, 13. Tyler SPITZ, 14. Salom YIU Kam-shing, 15. Jack NEVILLE.  Reserves: 16. Alexander HARRIS, 17. Adam FULLGRABE, 18. Jack PARFITT, 19. Jamie PINCOTT, 20. Kane BOUCAUT, 21. Conor HARTLEY, 22. Benjamin RIMENE, 23. Jamie LAUDER, 24. Michael PARFITT.