17 Nov 2018

Hong Kong will hope to extend its recent form over Kenya in tomorrow’s clash in the Rugby World cup 2019 repechage in Marseille [20.00 HKG time].  

Hong Kong’s opening round loss to Germany leaves them with work to do and needing a bonus point win over Kenya at the Jean Delort Stadium to keep their hopes of booking a spot in Japan next year alive.

Unlike last week’s tie, Hong Kong have a better grasp on what Kenya are likely to present, having played them three times in 2017 with Hong Kong claiming the honours with two test wins and a draw.  

Hong Kong drew the first test in Kenya in summer 2017, before beating the hosts in Nairobi 43-34, and kept the hot hand on the return visit in November of the same year, beating Kenya in the Cup of Nations, 40-30.

Implementing a line-up that has been planned specifically for this game and far in advance of the team’s departure for Marseille, the selectors have instituted several changes.  The changes are designed to counter some of the Kenyan strength and to inject energy and pace into what is expected to be a high-tempo affair.

Given Hong Kong’s backs are firmly against the wall, Dai Rees, Chief Rugby Operations Officer at the HKRU, credited the response from the squad to the opening loss against Germany.

“There has been a huge response from the squad this week. We had a bad loss against Germany where we didn’t execute our game plan fully and we accept that. But there were also a lot of positives for us to build off, including our defence, which was magnificent, with a 95% completion rate, bar one missed tackle at a man down in the final quarter.

“We reflected on the loss for about ten minutes before moving on to Kenya. The planned changes ahead of this test have really added energy into the squad and there is a real buzz in the team with everyone knowing what is needed,” Rees added.

Fortunately for Hong Kong, Kenya is less of an unknown then the Germans, who operated largely behind closed doors in the build-up before making their presence known against Hong Kong.

“We know Kenya. We know what they will bring and what they are capable of and how dangerous they can be if we don’t execute our game plan. They are probably capable of scoring 20 tries in a match and also capable of conceding 20 tries as well.

“But we are also well aware that they know us equally well, and that they are cornered at the moment. We understand how dangerous they can be if we don’t execute our game plan,” Rees said.

In a rarity for Hong Kong, that game plan will likely involve trying to slow the tempo down and exert a more possession style game against Kenya, who thrive on counter-attacking and chaos in the loose play.

“We need to control the game. Our set piece will have to be functioning in both the scrum and the lineout, and we just need to keep a very structured game and force them to play to that structure,” Rees added.

Planned changes ahead of Kenya include a new-look front row pod of Ben Higgins, Ben Roberts and Dylan Rogers, with Dayne Jans and Dan Barlow, hooker and loosehead prop against Germany, moving to the bench, alongside fellow front rower Jack Parfitt.  Captain James Cunningham will lock down with Fin Field while Hong Kong’s most capped international Nick Hewson takes up his familiar number six sweater for his 56th cap with Toby Fenn at seven and Kane Boucaut at No.8.   Michael Parfitt and Thomas Lamboley, back row starters against Germany, move to the reserves bench.

Bryn Phillips earns the start at scrumhalf, pairing with Hong Kong sevens captain Ben Rimene at fly-half, getting his first action of the repechage after carrying a slight niggle into last week’s tie with Germany. Ben Axten-Burrett will partner in the midfield with Tyler Spitz, who retains his starting position from last week at outside centre.  Salom Yiu, the only veteran of last week’s back three, will partner with emerging star Max Denmark on the left wing and former captain Jamie Hood at full-back, while Lewis Warner and Matt Rosslee provide cover on the reserves bench.

With Kenya bolstered by the addition of several of its sevens stars, the squad for Kenya counters that with speed and elusiveness of its own across the park, with Rimene, Yiu, Denmark, Fenn, Boucaut and Hood - all veterans of Hong Kong’s sevens squad, coming into the action.

Hong Kong squad v Kenya

RWC 2019 Repechage, Marseille, 17 November

1. Ben HIGGINS, 2. Ben ROBERTS, 3. Dylan ROGERS, 4. James CUNNINGHAM ©, 5. Fin FIELD, 6. Nick HEWSON, 7. Toby FENN, 8. Kane BOUCAUT, 9. Bryn PHILLIPS, 10. Ben RIMENE, 11. Max DENMARK, 12. Ben AXTEN-BURRETT, 13. Tyler SPITZ, 14. YIU Kam-Shing, Salom, 15. Jamie HOOD. 16. Dayne JANS 17. Dan BARLOW, 18. Jack PARFITT, 19. Mick PARFITT 20. Thomas LAMBOLEY, 21. Liam SLATEM, 22. Matt ROSSLEE, 23. Lewis WARNER.