09 Nov 2017

Hong Kong coach Leigh Jones has called the upcoming 2017 Regal Hotels Cup of Nations a watershed moment for his side as they face off against Russia, Kenya and tournament debutants Chile from 10 to 17 November, with an eye on preparing for the Rugby World Cup 2019 qualification process next year.

“It’s a good mix of teams and styles and an excellent opportunity for us to play against the wide range of competition that replicates a potential qualification process for the Rugby World Cup in 2019,” said Jones.

“If we take ourselves seriously regarding our desire to qualify for the Rugby World Cup in 2019, then we have got to be able to go head to head with teams like Russia, Chile and Kenya, and win!

“We have talked a lot about it as a group and the players understand that in many ways this is another watershed moment in our development and we need to be bold enough to back ourselves,” Jones added.

Hong Kong’s first test will be against the twice-defending champions Russia on Friday night (10 Nov) at King’s Park (19.00).

Russia enter the tournament as the highest ranked team in the competition at number 20 overall. Hong Kong are presently ranked 22nd in the world followed by Kenya and Chile in 27th and 28th spots.

Jones has picked a squad for the opener based significantly on players on form for their clubs in the Old Mutual International Premiership, as well as welcoming back Max Woodward and Cado Lee Ka-to, who have been playing professionally in Japan but are released from club commitments during the November test window.

“Our build-up has been superb and we are in a good place at the moment. We are ready for the competition and the players understand the significance of the games in the larger scheme of things and are keen to test their mettle against some stern opposition.”

“Some of the players have been in the system for three or four years and its evident we have grown significantly as a group over recent seasons. It’s time to put ourselves out there, raise the bar, and be confident enough to test ourselves at a new level.

“We are entering this competition with some positive momentum after our appearances in the Asia Rugby Championship and beating Kenya away last summer, and its important that we are bold and confident enough to take that next step,” Jones said.

Jones is unfazed by the first-up competition against Russia, saying, “If we are fortunate enough to reach the World Cup, we will have to face quality teams on a short turnaround basis so whether we play Russia now or at the end of the competition really makes no difference.”

Jones is calling for a composed performance from the group to face Russia in the opener on Friday night: “We’ve got to be accurate and disciplined in our approach. The last few matches against Russia we’ve given away too many points through a poor set-piece and lack of discipline. This gave them important field position from which to launch their attacks through their traditionally strong forward pack.

“Our set-piece has improved significantly, while we have also talked about the need to be ‘squeaky clean’ in terms of our discipline and defence in thwarting Russia’s strong forward surges when they get into our 22.

“We’ve prepared well and are ready for it. I also sense a feeling among the players that they’ll be bold enough to back themselves.”

The squad for Russia is an experienced one and Jones has favoured a strong forward pack to combat the physicality of the Russians.

Dan Barlow, Dayne Jans and Dylan Rogers anchor the front row while locks James Cunningham and Adrian Griffiths add mobility in the tight five to complement a ball-winning loose forwards trio of captain Nick Hewson and Toby Fenn at flanker and Thomas Lamboley at No.8.

Hewson will mark his 50th cap for Hong Kong tomorrow against Russia. He has been a core member of the team since his debut in 2009 against Germany and thanked others for the success, while keeping focused on the matter in hand.

“I’ve been lucky to have a great set up in Hong Kong rugby in particular Dai [Rees, HKRU Chief Rugby Operations Officer] and Leigh for Hong Kong and all of the Valley rugby community that have helped me achieve this milestone,” he said. “But I would take a win over the 50th cap. It’s important that we perform tomorrow above anything else.”

Scrumhalf Jamie Hood and flyhalf Matthew Rosslee will provide a settled pairing at the halfback spots with Lex Kaleca partnering with the returning Woodward to add punch in the centres, while Conor Hartley, Salom Yiu Kam-shing and Robbie Keith make up the back three.

Jones can also turn to some significant experience on the reserves bench, with another test captain Ben Roberts starting the match on the bench, joined by Ben Higgins as reserve front rowers. Callum McFeat-Smith, Kyle Sullivan and Kane Boucaut add more bulk to a five-to-three forwards to backs split with a trio of sevens players in Mike Coverdale, Cado Lee and Jack Neville adding some pace threats to the backline.

Ms. Dora Liu, Vice President – Sales of Regal Hotels International Limited said, “It is our great honour to be the official sponsor of “Regal Hotels Cup of Nations” for the second year. Our company always passionate in sports events and would like to celebrate the great moment with the world’s top players as well as our valuable guests. With the great success from last year, we are delighted to have long-lasting partnership with Hong Kong Rugby Union and wish there is continuous success this year.”

Cup of Nations captains Nick Hewson (HK), Benjamin Pizarro (Chile), Andrey Temnov (Russia), Wilson Kopondo (Kenya)

2017 Regal Hotels Cup of Nations Match Schedule





Friday, 10 Nov.

Kenya v Chile


Kings Park

Hong Kong v Russia


Kings Park

Tues., 14 Nov.

Russia v Kenya


Kings Park

Hong Kong v Chile


Kings Park

Sat., 18 Nov.

Russia v Chile


Hong Kong Football Club

Hong Kong v Kenya


Hong Kong Football Club