20th Nov 2015

Hong Kong beat Zimbabwe (30-11) and Portugal (13-6) to set up a decisive battle with Russia for the inaugural Hong Kong Rugby Union Cup of Nations title on Saturday (21 Nov.) at Hong Kong Football Club (kick-off at 17.00). Portugal and Zimbabwe will play for third place at 14.00.

Hong Kong are now familiar with their Russian opponents after they toured here last year, (sweeping the hosts in both matches 31-10 and 37-29), and have selected their strongest fifteen from the 31-man training squad for the decider tomorrow afternoon.

“Last year we were caught out a bit by Russia who were somewhat of an unknown quantity, but that is no longer the case. We improved over the two matches last year and are aware of the challenges they pose. Russia are the team to beat and their performance in the first two matches has clearly shown that they have quality throughout their side,” said Hong Kong coach Andy Hall.

“Having said that, we have also improved since last year, adding some depth in key positions and our preparations have been better this year. We know there is a challenge ahead of us, but within the squad there is real belief and we are going to have a go at them,” Hall added.

Key to Hong Kong’s chances will be negating the Russian forward pack, which is both strong and skillful. “The size of their pack is an obvious weapon,” said Hall. “Their No.8 [Viktor Gresev] is very significant for them. He is a strong carrier of the ball, and if we give their forwards’ space, we will be in trouble.

“Their captain [Vasily Artemyev] is also dangerous. He has Premiership experience in England and has played at the Rugby World Cup. He’s a good player who creates space out wide. He can do damage and we will need to keep a close eye on him at all times,” Hall added, while noting that Hong Kong will need to find a new level on Saturday, starting with improved accuracy.

“We need to tighten things up a bit and to be more accurate and ready to take advantage of our opportunities. Defensively we have shipped too many one on one tackles but we haven’t really been punished for it. If we do the same against Russia or give them too much space to operate we will be looking down the barrel of conceding seven points,” Hall said.

Hall is pleased with the results so far, having introduced 10 new players so far in the campaign.

“The new players have performed well. They now know that it is a big step up in terms of playing international rugby and Russia will truly show them what test rugby is all about. But we have got to keep exposing them to this level. They will make mistakes, but as long as we learn from those mistakes we will be moving closer to our goal, which is to be in contention to qualify for Rugby World Cup 2019.”

Hall and the selectors have picked their strongest squad from the 31-man training group. With a premium placed on negating Russia’s size advantage in the forwards, Hall has tipped loosehead prop Rohan Cook and flanker James Cunningham, both of whom started against Zimbabwe in the opener, for the climactic test to round out an established group of forwards.

Cook will join an experienced front row of hooker Alex Harris and tight head prop Jack Parfitt. Paul Dwyer gets his second start at lock after playing against Zimbabwe, partnering HKCC club-mate Jack Delaforce. Cunningham will join captain Nick Hewson and Dan Falvey, who gets his second run in as many tests at No.8, in the back row. John Aikman, recently recovered from injury, and Jamie Tsang will provide front row depth in the reserves with Adrian Griffiths providing lock support and flanker Toby Fenn backing up the loose forwards.

In the backline, sevens players Tom McQueen and Lee Ka To retain their starting spots on the wing and scrumhalf respectively after the Portugal match, with Hall keeping his flyhalf and centres pairing of Ben Rimene and Lex Kaleca and Tyler Spitz intact for the third straight test. The steady Ed Rolston retains the fullback’s jersey for the third consecutive match with winger Brad Raper coming back into the squad for the finale opposite McQueen. Tom Marshall, James Robinson and Niall Rowark provide the backline reinforcements and will look to continue the trend of reserves making immediate impact off the bench.

Commenting on the selection Hall said, “It is what we feel is our strongest squad at the moment. I would say that 70% of the selection is based on our overall plans at the start of the series, while there are also aspects of form in terms of players who have shown well across the series getting another run.

“With three tests in ten days there is an element of man-management involved. There were always plans to rotate players like James Cunningham in for the final match, and to keep players like Paul Dwyer fresh to keep their impact levels high for Russia. Rohan Cook has put his hand up as the form loosehead prop in the matches and through training and has gotten another opportunity, but we entered the series with a plan to manage the physical demands so we could call on players for the third test that can help bring energy into the squad.”

Russia captain Vasily Artemyev says his team is equally well prepared. “Hong Kong will definitely be the hardest match of the tournament. They are much improved from last year, both in their style of play and continuity and their overall strength. If they get over the gain-line in the first few phases they can be very dangerous. We will alter our style a bit to try and keep them off balance.”

The Russians have held up to the physical demands well, fielding all 26 players at today’s final training. “We are definitely going to put our strongest side and are really focusing on our structure,” said Artemyev. “We know from last year’s tests that Hong Kong can be dangerous from broken play and they have a good variety in their attack so we need to have our structures perfect for tomorrow.

“I think it will be an exciting finish and we are keen to conclude the tour on a high note. It should be an entertaining match and hopefully we will have a good crowd of Russian supporters out to join us.”

The two undefeated sides, Hong Kong and Russia, will meet in the final match of the Cup of Nations on Saturday, 21 November, at 17.00 at Hong Kong Football Club, preceded by the 3rd/4th place play-off between Portugal and Zimbabwe at 14.00. Admission is free.

Hong Kong Squad v Russia:

1. Rohan COOK (HKCC), 2. Alex HARRIS (Kowloon), 3. Jack PARFITT (HK Scottish), 4. Paul DWYER (HKCC) 5. Jack DELAFORCE (HKCC), 6. James CUNNINGHAM (Kowloon), 7. Nick HEWSON (Captain, Valley), 8. Dan Falvey (HKFC), 9. LEE Ka To Cado (USRC Tigers), 10. Ben RIMENE (Valley), 11. Tom MCQUEEN (HKCC), 12. Lex KALECA (HK Scottish), 13. Tyler SPITZ (USRC Tigers), 14. Brad RAPER (HKCC), 15. Edmund ROLSTON (Valley). RESERVES BENCH: 16. Alex NG Wai Shing (Valley), 17. Jamie TSANG (Kowloon), 18. John AIKMAN (HKS), 19. Adrian GRIFFITHS (HKCC), 20. Toby FENN (Valley), 21. Tom MARSHALL (HKCC), 22. Niall ROWARK, 23. Jamie ROBINSON (HKCC)