08 Nov 2015

Twelve new caps have been included in the 31-man Hong Kong Rugby Union squad for the upcoming Cup of Nations test series with Russia, Zimbabwe and Portugal.

Hot on the heels of this weekend’s Asian Sevens qualifiers for the 2016 Olympics, the Cup of Nations will see double-headers of world-class fifteen-aside rugby at the Hong Kong Football Club, starting on Friday (13 Nov.) when Hong Kong faces off against Zimbabwe and Portugal plays Russia.

Hong Kong enters the tournament as the second highest-ranked side competing - 24th in the world, two spots off Russia’s place at 22 and ahead of Zimbabwe (26th) and Portugal (28th).

Hong Kong coach Andrew Hall commented on the new additions to his potential line-up saying, “I think what we are seeing is a product of our enhanced commitment to the next four-year cycle in terms of qualification for the 2019 Rugby World Cup.

“After last year’s Asian championship we had some natural attrition with a couple of retirements and guys who have moved on. The majority of players we have included in the training squad are those we are counting on to be here four years hence, when we aim to qualify for Rugby World Cup 2019,” Hall said.

Among the new caps are several players returning to Hong Kong after completing their education, as well as some standout performers from the HKRU domestic league, who have become eligible through residency after playing in the HKRU Premiership for three years.

“Each of our opponents has a vastly different style, some of which we know well from previous experience with matches against Russia and Zimbabwe. There are differences in all three of the opponents, but the one overriding factor is that they all have that physicality, which we will need to counter,” Hall said.

Hall believes that the new additions will bolster an already enhanced physical presence for his team on the pitch. Among the potential first caps in the squad are a trio of returning players in front rowers Jamie Tsang and Adam Fullgrabe and back rower James Cunningham. All three of them are playing for Sabre Kowloon in this season’s domestic competition.

Fullgrabe previously represented Hong Kong at age grade levels and also played for Eastern Suburbs in the Sydney Premiership, while Tsang previously played for Hong Kong Cricket Club in the top flight before leaving to continue his education at Worcester University.

Cunningham brings some strong professional experience to the set-up after playing rugby league for Manly and playing in Australia’s National Rugby [Union] Championship.

“James has a strong pedigree and comes in with some high expectations after playing for Manly and in the NRC. He brings that league mentality to the side and will add a considerable edge to the back row after losing some hard-nosed players like Pale Tauti and Alex Baddeley to retirement in previous seasons. Having that physical presence across the pack will be important,” Hall added.

In keeping with the importance of holding their own in the expected forwards battles to come, Natixis Hong Kong Football Club No. 8 Dan Falvey, Leighton Asia HKCC prop Rohan Cook and Bloomberg Hong Kong Scottish prop Jamie Pincott are in the squad after becoming eligible in the close season.

They will supplement an established tight five with front row forwards Alex Ng Wai Shing (Societe General Valley), John Aikman, Jack Parfitt (Scottish), Adam Butterfield (HKFC), Alex Harris (Kowloon) and second rowers Jack Delaforce, Paul Dwyer and Adrian Griffiths (HKCC).

Valley flanker Nick Hewson will again captain the squad from the forwards, joined by standouts Matt Lamming (HKCC) and Toby Fenn (Valley) in the Hong Kong back row.

Harris, Ng and Hewson are the squad veterans with 29 caps for Harris and 31 caps respectively for Ng and Hewson, while Matt Lamming has 18 appearances for Hong Kong. Their leadership will be important to keep the team focused in the heat of the fray.

“Size-wise, we’re in one of the better positions we’ve been in in a few seasons. This is potentially one of the bigger packs we have been able to field. Our depth is really improving,” Hall added.

The influx of players has also seen a new wave of promising backs emerge, always important with Hong Kong’s core sevens players – traditionally some of the most dangerous attackers on the domestic scene – unavailable for selection due to the build-up to the Asia Rugby Sevens Qualifiers.

HKCC winger Brad Raper, centre Jamie Robinson and scrumhalf Tom Marshall are among those angling for first caps. Marshall, returning from a lengthy injury lay-off after impressing on his domestic debut a few seasons ago, will offer selectors additional options at scrumhalf with Adam Rolston and Charles Cheung Ho Ning also looking to establish themselves in the number 9 jersey.

Hong Kong Scottish’s hard-running centre Lex Kaleca could also add a new dimension to the midfield with his physical, straight-ahead style a potential salve for the loss of Lloyd Jones in last year’s Asian championship.

These players will join veteran mid-field generals Niall Rowark, Ben Rimene and Chris McAdam in the battle for the number 10 jersey, while regulars Gavin Hadley, Tyler Spitz, Charles Higson-Smith and Edmund Rolston all look to lock down their positions in the outside backs and back three.

With selection for the first test looming, Hall is intent on achieving multiple targets from this year’s Cup of Nations:

“This tournament is hugely important, but not just for us, also for our opponents. World Rugby needs a strong competition like this so Tier 2 and Tier 3 Unions can further enhance their performance and vie for Rugby World Cup spots. We need a minimum of seven international matches each year and we also want to vary our competition and the Cup of Nations delivers that for us.

“The challenge for the coaches is to ensure that guys can step up to the next level from our domestic league. That is an ongoing challenge that we are continuously working to address from a high-performance perspective, and with an eye on 2019 we will be making some important moves in this direction,” Hall said.

With some time before crunch matches begin in the 2019 qualification cycle, Hall can afford to be more expansive in his objectives:

“Our primary objective is to win. We’re also mindful that with this many new players, we need to expose them to international rugby. So that is another objective for us, expose those players and gauge their performance, irrespective of results.

“But we need to win for a number of reasons. Japan has now qualified outright for 2019 and not just as hosts so we need to start making our case for inclusion in the Rugby World Cup in 2019 – the first in Asia – on our own merits. And that starts with beating teams like Zimbabwe, Portugal and Russia… And that starts next week.”

Hong Kong Cup of Nations Training Squad:

Adam BUTTERFIELD (HKFC), Adam FULLGRABE (Kowloon), Adam ROLSTON (Valley), Adrian GRIFFITHS (HKCC), Alex HARRIS (Kowloon), Alex NG Wai Shing (Valley), Ben HIGGINS (Valley), Ben RIMENE (Valley), Brad RAPER (HKCC), Charles CHEUNG Ho Ning (HKS), Charles HIGSON-SMITH (HKFC), Chris McADAM (Kowloon), Dan FALVEY (HKFC), Edmund ROLSTON (Valley), Gavin HADLEY (HKFC), Jack DELAFORCE (HKCC), Jack PARFITT (HKS), James CUNNINGHAM (Kowloon), Jamie ROBINSON (HKCC), Jamie TSANG (Kowloon), Jack AIKMAN (HKS), Lex KALECA (HKS), Matt LAMMING (HKCC), Moses Bailey (HKCC), Niall ROWARK (HKFC), Nick HEWSON (captain, VALLEY), Paul DWYER (HKCC), Rohan COOK (HKCC), Toby FENN (Valley), Tom MARSHALL (HKCC), Tyler SPITZ (USRC Tigers), Jamie PINCOTT (HKS)

Hong Kong Cup of Nations 2015 Match Schedule

(All Games are at Hong Kong Football Club)

Friday, 13 Nov:Portugal v Russia (kick-off 1600)

Hong Kong v Zimbabwe (kick-off 1900)

Tuesday, 17 Nov: Zimbabwe v Russia (kick-off 1600)

Hong Kong v Portugal (Kick-off 1900)

Saturday, 21 Nov:Portugal v Zimbabwe (kick-off at 1400)

Hong Kong v Russia (kick-off at 1700)