HK gamble on Leung to shine in new position
Alvin Sallay in Al Ain, UAE
They don't gamble here in the United Arab Emirates. At least not overtly, otherwise Hong Kong's ploy to use Simon Leung as a No.8 for today's opening game in the HSBC Asian Five Nations against the Arabian Gulf would probably go down as the last throw of the dice.
Normally a loosehead prop, Leung is unfazed at the challenge thrown at him by the coaching team of John Walters and Brian Higgins who have asked him to step into the shoes of the injured Semi Iafeta for the all-important first game in this inaugural tournament.
'I'm looking forward to it. The coaches have shown great confidence in me and picked me to start at No.8. It will be the first time that I will be playing in this position for Hong Kong. It doesn't worry me,' Leung said as he tucked into his breakfast of marmalade and toast at the plush resort hotel, 140km from Dubai.
'I have played in the back-row for Hong Kong Cricket Club on a couple of occasions, but it really doesn't matter where I play. The position is just a name for once you get out there, it's just 15 guys, all working towards one thing - winning,' said Leung.
The loss of captain Iafeta for the opening two matches in the four-game campaign has put head coach Walters under severe duress. Not wanting to lose bulk in the pack, he has decided to take a gambit and plump for the 110kg Leung.
'He has all the right physical attributes to play at No.8. He is a smart guy and the injury to Semi [Iafeta] has given us the opportunity to switch him to the back-row. We were looking for an excuse to play him there,' smiles Walters.
'The first time I saw him train at No.8, I thought he was a natural. It was an easy decision for we have enough depth in the front row.'
Football Club's dynamic duo Pete Spizzirri and Nigel Hobler - both were outstanding in Club's total domination this season - will prop with Wayne Whitney hooking. Leung, and flankers Nigel Clarke and Renaud Chavanis will be at the back while Laurence Denvir and Ivan Zenovic will be in the second row.
There is one positional change in the backs too with Rowan Varty moving to fullback from the wing. Walters hopes this will allow him to express himself more freely in attack.
In the two warm-up matches against Tunisia, Hong Kong failed to cross the try-line, and Walters will hope the re-jigged backline - Jonny Elliott and Justin Temara being the new halves combination - will explode into action at the Al Ain Amblers Rugby Club.
Tries will be crucial for there is a bonus point to be won if you score four and this will be the aim for Hong Kong before they take on the big boys of Asia - Japan and South Korea.