8 new caps in Hong Kong 23 v Zimbabwe; familiar foes Russia and Portugal face off

12 11月 2015

Hong Kong will field eight new players versus Zimbabwe, in the opening match of the inaugural Hong Kong Rugby Union Cup of Nations on Friday, (19.00, 13 Nov.) at Hong Kong Football Club. Familiar foes Russia and Portugal will play in the opening match at 16.00.

Hong Kong will start its campaign versus Zimbabwe who have drawn their team from players based as far afield as Germany.The peripatetic squad have only been able to have their first full squad trainings this week in Hong Kong, but Nick Hewson, captain of the home XV, doesn’t expect that to be a hindrance:

“They may be pulling together a team from fairly widely spread territory but these guys are coming from Sharks in South Africa and some good clubs in the United Kingdom and Europe. So they may be coming together late, but they can call upon players with good experience and skill. They will be a tough test.”

Hong Kong beat Zimbabwe 22-7 in their only previous meeting in Dubai, UAE in 2012. Hewson a veteran of that encounter spoke about his expectations from the Sables XV in tomorrow’s opener:“That result was a long while ago, so we aren’t looking too much at that game, but they have a very heavy forward pack and our first order of business is to combat that. I remember them being very physical. We needed to exert a lot of effort to stop the momentum of their heavy ball carrying forwards.

“They won the African Cup in 2014 and played Russia in the Rugby World Cup repechage and competed well, so we are under no illusions about their quality. Our big focus is on making sure we have our own processes right and denying them the opportunities to bring their strengths into the game,” said Hewson.

Perhaps playing tactics, Zimbabwe captain Denford Mutamangira, a tight head prop who has been in the Glasgow Warriors and Sharks set-ups in the recent past, said that the team in Hong Kong has only one veteran from 2012 and will offer a different proposition to that in Dubai.

“We want to move the ball around, because we are going to be giving away a lot of size against our opponents. We don’t have big forwards and our strength is in our attacking approach, we want to keep the ball in hand and play running rugby. We express ourselves through our rugby and we want to express ourselves this week.”

In an attempt to gag the opposition, Hong Kong coach Andrew Hall has tipped 8 of his 12 new players in the expanded tournament squad for potential caps on Friday with five cracking the starting fifteen.

Loose head prop Rohan Cook and flanker James Cunningham both earn first starts for Hong Kong in the forwards, while scrumhalf Tom Marshall, winger Bradley Raper and centre Lex Kaleca are the new faces in the back line.Front rowers Jamie Tsang and Jamie Pincott and centre James Robinson start from the bench as part of a five-three forwards-to-backs split in the reserves for the opening test.

Hewson will captain the team from No.8 with Alex Harris at hooker, prop Jack Parfitt, locks Jack Delaforce and Adrian Griffiths and Matt Lamming rounding out the pack alongside Cook and Cunningham.

Marshall and Ben Rimene will anchor the midfield at scrumhalf and flyhalf respectively, with Lex Kaleca and Tyler Spitz providing a hard-nosed centre pairing. Ed Rolston gets the start at fullback with Charlie Higson-Smith joining Raper on the wings.

“Some of the form players from the Premiership have come into the squad and they have definitely brought some new energy into the training environment. There is some nice talent coming through and they have an opportunity to stake their claim and establish themselves in the team, which enhances the competitiveness of the squad as a whole,” said Hewson.

“Rohan Cook and James Cunningham are both excellent additions and will help us control possession which is going to be key. We need to retain time on the ball and make sure their forwards can’t build momentum, because they have some classy backs outside. We want to set a strong platform so we can take our game to them. Everyone is excited and over the last few weeks we have been able to develop that understanding within the side and are now all on the same page and ready for the challenge,” Hewson concluded.

In the opening match (16.00 kick-off) top-ranked Russia (22nd in the world) will play bottom-ranked Portugal (28th). Hong Kong are 24th and Zimbabwe are 26th.The European heavyweights are very familiar with each other, having played on 17 previous occasions. Russia has the upper hand in the head-to-head winning 11 to Portugal’s five with the teams having also drawn once. Despite Russia’s favourable overall record, the average margin of victory across the matches has been just seven points.

Russia swept Hong Kong twice last year and enter the Cup of Nations as the team to beat, but their opponents could have a window of opportunity with several of Russia’s first choice players involved in the European Rugby Challenge Cup this weekend. Siberian club Enisei-STM will mark their ERC Challenge Cup debut when they host Guinness PRO12 leaders Connaught. Enisei is fielding 22 test players, 20 of whom come from the Russian team, as they host the Irish this weekend in Krasnoyarsk.

The HKRU Cup of Nations will be played as a full round robin competition across three match days: Nov. 13, 17 and 21. Teams will receive four points for a win, two points for a draw and zero points for a loss. Bonus points will be awarded with one point for teams scoring four or more tries in a single match and one point awarded for a loss within seven points. All matches will be held at Hong Kong Football Club and admission is free.

Hong Kong Squad v Zimbabwe:

1. Rohan COOK (HKCC)*, 2. Alex HARRIS (Kowloon), 3. Jack PARFITT (HK Scottish), 4. Jack DELAFORCE (HKCC), 5. Adrian GRIFFITHS (HKCC), 6. James CUNNINGHAM (Kowloon)*, 7. Matt LAMMING (HKCC), 8. Nick HEWSON (Captain, Valley), 9. Tom MARSHALL (HKCC), 10. Ben RIMENE (Valley), 11. Brad RAPER (HKCC)*, 12. Lex KALECA (HK Scottish)*, 13. Tyler SPITZ (USRC Tigers), 14. Charles HIGSON-SMITH (HKFC), 15. Edmund ROLSTON (Valley). RESERVES BENCH: 16. Alex NG Wai Shing (Valley), 17. Jamie TSANG (Kowloon)*, 18. Jamie PINCOTT (HKS)*, 19. Paul DWYER (HKCC), 20. Toby FENN (Valley), 21. Charles Cheung Ho Ning (HKS), 22. Niall ROWARK, 23. Jamie ROBINSON (HKCC)*

* New caps.