HONG KONG LOOK TO CLOSE OUT COOK ISLANDS

Hewson to become Hong Kong’s Most Capped Player on Saturday

06 Jul 2018

Hong Kong have named their squad to contest the home leg of the Rugby World Cup 2019 repechage play-off against Cook Islands tomorrow (7 July, kick off: 16.30) at Hong Kong Football Club.

Hong Kong secured a vital opening round win with a clinical 26-3 victory last week in Rarotonga, but coach Leigh Jones is expecting another complete performance at home. 

“Last week, while the players were pleased with the result, they were also slightly subdued. They knew they left a lot of points on the field and were feeling that there is still another level of performance within the group.

“This week, the players have been pretty autonomous, driving themselves to find that next level of performance, and as you can imagine, there's been a real focus among the group with the senior guys really taking on the responsibility to drive our standards.”

With the Cook Islands backed into a corner, Hong Kong will need to step up to the challenge once again as they look to close out the penultimate stage of qualification for Rugby World Cup 2019. 

The winners of the series will advance to a final four-team tournament in November to determine the 20th place at next year’s World Cup.

Jones has picked a settled squad for the home tie, drawn largely from the group that contested the away match.

“We find ourselves in pretty good shape regarding numbers, having some quality players returning from injury. The competition for places since returning has been really healthy, hence the changes,” said Jones.

Jones has called experienced fly half and Hong Kong sevens captain Ben Rimene into the squad while scrum-half Cado Lee will start at nine on Saturday.

Ben Roberts returns to action at hooker after sitting out the first match in the series, while Alex Post, who performed admirably as a last-minute call-up to the starting fifteen last week, will back him up on the bench with Jamie Tsang sidelined by a neck strain.

“Having the likes of Cado Lee, Ben Rimene and Ben Roberts coming back into the squad adds real value and experience, and complimentins the inclusion of the youthful and exuberant Max Denmark and Adam Fullgrabe. We are in great shape.”

Fullgrabe earns the start at loosehead prop with Roberts and Dylan Rogers rounding out the front row; last week’s starting loosehead Dan Barlow moves to the bench.

The remainder of the pack remains intact from the opening round with captain James Cunningham forming a locking duo with Jack Delaforce in front of an all-Valley back row of Thomas Lamboley at No.8 and Toby Fenn and Nick Hewson on the flanks.

Matt Rosslee returns at fly half with Lex Kaleca and Max Woodward reprising their successful partnership in the centres from the opening match.  Jack Neville retains his spot at fullback with Salom Yiu and Max Denmark on the wings.

Versatile back Jamie Hood is also on the bench, bringing the number of Hong Kong fifteen and seven-a-side captains and former captains in the squad to six (Cunningham, Hewson, Roberts, Rimene, Hood (7s), Woodward (7s).

Wearing the number six jersey he has made his own since his test debut against Germany in 2009, Hewson will mark his 56th international cap on Saturday, putting him ahead of Dave Lewis as the Hong Kong Rugby Union’s all-time most capped player. 

“Nick and I go back a long way, he's one of only two guys - Salom [Yiu Kam-shing] being the other, who has been on the journey since my arrival some eight years ago,” said Jones.

“He was my first selection as captain and someone I still rely heavily on when needing a player perspective on things. He's a real professional in his approach, with great leadership qualities, while being tough, durable and possessing a keen rugby brain.

“The fact that he takes over the cap record seems only right and proper for such a popular squad member. And at a remarkable 34 years of age, I firmly believe there's still a few games left in the old dog and fully expect him to add to that tally.”

Hood joins reserve scrumhalf Jamie Lauder and Rimine as the three backs on the bench with Barlow, Jack and Mick Parfitt and Kane Boucaut the forwards reserves.

Hong Kong squad (v Cook Islands, 7 July, Rugby World Cup 2019 qualification)

1. Adam FULLGRABE, 2. Ben ROBERTS, 3. Dylan ROGERS, 4. James CUNNINGHAM (Captain), 5. Jack DELAFORCE, 6. Nick HEWSON, 7. Toby FENN, 8. Thomas LAMBOLEY, 9. Cado LEE Ka-to, 10. Matthew ROSSLEE, 11. Max DENMARK, 12. Lex KALECA, 13. Max WOODWARD, 14. Salom YIU Kam-shing, 15. Jack NEVILLE, 16. Alex POST, 17. Dan BARLOW, 18. Jack PARFITT, 19. Mick PARFITT, 20. Kane BOUCAUT, 21. Jamie LAUDER, 22. Ben RIMENE, 23. Jamie HOOD

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