Versatile Varty to play new role in Five Nations opener against Japan
Rowan Varty, one of the top try-scorers in last year's inaugural HSBC Asian Five Nations, will switch positions when Hong Kong take on defending champions Japan in the first game of their 2009 campaign on Saturday.
Sevens ace Varty, who scored a memorable hat-trick against Japan last year, has always played as a winger or fullback in the 15-a-side version, but new head coach Dai Rees sprung a surprise yesterday when he announced a new-look team for his first full international in charge by moving Varty to outside centre.
'Rowan has the potential to be a very good 13,' Rees said. 'He is a very good tackler and he is too good a player not to be involved. I know he can transfer all the qualities he has as a sevens player because he is a talented all-rounder.'
Varty, 23, excelled as a fullback last year, running in three tries against Japan in a 75-29 defeat, but Rees has been unafraid to experiment.
'Without a doubt, 13 is Rowan's best position based on what I have seen of him so far,' Rees said. 'But this is not to say he won't figure as a fullback or winger in the future.'
Varty (pictured) will combine with the rock-solid Simon Hempel and Rees will be hoping the pair will form an impregnable midfield to limit the dangerous Japan backline.
Three players in the starting line-up will win their first caps - scrumhalf Jeff Wong Chun-kui, winger Sebastian Perkins and fullback Mike McKee - with a further four new caps on the bench in Grapes Lai Tsz-leung, Angus Washington, Tim Alexander and Adam Raby.
Injuries to No 8 Semi Iafeta, who captained the squad last season, and centre Jamie Hood have prevented both from being considered for the opening game. Hooker Jon Abel will lead Hong Kong for the first time.
'Japan are an outstanding team, but I'm asking for a performance which the players will be proud of, the fans will be proud of and the Hong Kong Rugby Football Union will be proud of,' Rees said.
Japan, coached by former All Black John Kirwan, began their campaign with a rollicking 87-10 victory over Kazakhstan last week in Osaka.
Hong Kong players in the starting line-up who will win their first caps: 3