HONG KONG LOOK TO CLOSE OUT FWD ASIA RUGBY CHAMPIONSHIP DEFENCE UNDEFEATED

28 Jun 2019

Tyler Spitz makes the ball available in the tackle

Only South Korea stand in the way of the Hong Kong men’s national team closing out an undefeated defence of its first ever Asia Rugby title won in 2018. 

A win for the home side on Saturday at Hong Kong Football Club, (kick-off 1600), will see Hong Kong claim the title with a perfect record for a second straight year.  

A bonus point win for Korea, while keeping Hong Kong out of the bonus, would lift them level on overall points, but Hong Kong has a comfortable points differential at +91 ahead of kick-off.

Hong Kong entered this year’s tournament with a different look, under new coach Andrew Hall and dealing with the challenges of key player retirements after the last Rugby World Cup cycle and managing Hong Kong’s ever divergent sevens and fifteen-a-side streams.

Many of those questions have now been settled, at least on a regional level, and Hong Kong have retained regional bragging rights in a competition that remains diminished without Japan, a side that Hong Kong eagerly awaits a crack at in future.

Most importantly, the campaign has unearthed a new generation of talent. Eight players were capped across the three preceding matches, with six of those set to start against Korea in a selection that closely resembles the side that claimed a crucial 47-10 away win in Incheon to start the competition.

Hong Kong went on to sweep Malaysia home and away, and now stand atop the table on 15 points, five ahead of Korea. Malaysia concluded its campaign with a single point after claiming the bonus in a close-run loss at Hong Kong Football Club two weeks ago.

Hall and the selectors largely retained the group that demolished Malaysia 71-0 last weekend in Kuala Lumpur to cap the championship run in front of the home faithful, with just three changes in the starting fifteen.

The forward pack remains the same from last week - and is the same starting group that bullied the Koreans to open the championship, with co-captain James Cunningham leading the group from flanker.

He is joined in the back row by recent cap Callum McCullough and Kane Boucaut at No.8. The front row sees Ben Higgins, Alex Post at hooker and Grant Kemp at tight head and young locking duo Fin Field and Kyle Sullivan.

The continud pairing under pressure of Field and Sullivan is a bright sign for Hong Kong’s long-term health, as is the featuring of two U20s players in squad co-captains Sam Tsoi and Paul Altier in this year’s championship.  Rangy back rower Tsoi will start from the bench against Korea while Altier has been rested after playing in the opening three matches, ahead of the U20’s departure for the World Rugby U20 Trophy in Brazil on July 4.

Joining Altier as newly capped players in the backline are wings Seb Brien and Harry Sayers, both of whom have featured already for Hong Kong at senior sevens level. The young duo will start on the wings on Saturday with sevens squad mate Jack Neville adding seasoning at full back. 

The changes in the backline see Matt Rosslee moved back into fly half with Ben Axten-Burrett and Tyler Spitz pairing in the centres.

Recent caps Mitch Andrews and Solomona are on the bench along with back five replacements Tsoi and Craig Lodge, with Lewis Warner and Rob Keith joining Lauder as backline reserves.

 

Hong Kong Squad v South Korea (Hong Kong Football Club, 29 June): 1. Ben HIGGINS, 2. Alex POST, 3. Grant KEMP, 4. Fin FIELD, 5. Kyle SULLIVAN, 6. James CUNNINGHAM, 7. Callum MCCULLOUGH, 8. Kane BOUCAUT, 9. Liam SLATEM ©, 10. Matt ROSSLEE, 11. Harry SAYERS, 12. Ben AXTEN-BURRETT, 13. Tyler SPITZ 14. Seb BRIEN, 15. Jack NEVILLE, 16. Callum MCFEAT SMITH 17. Mitch ANDREWS, 18. Faizal SOLOMONA, 19. Craig LODGE, 20. Sam TSOI, 21. Jamie LAUDER, 22. Lewis WARER, 23, Rob KEITH

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