Influential Hempel to miss S Korea showdown
Midfield general Simon Hempel will be missing in action when Hong Kong take on South Korea in Seoul in their second game in the HSBC Asian Five Nations on Saturday.
Hempel pulled out of the 22-man squad which leaves this afternoon for Seoul as his wife is due to give birth to their first child.
The loss of the influential Hempel will be a big blow for Hong Kong who have made two changes to the starting line-up which figured in the 59-6 loss to Japan last weekend. Talented teenager Ed Rolston comes in for Hempel, while Adam Raby, who was on the bench last time, will start on the left wing, resulting in Simon Smith switching to the right wing and replacing Baz Perkins who has been dropped.
Front-rower Fraser Smith, who is in line to win his first cap, and utility back Jonny Elliot are the two other new faces in the squad.
While Hempel's absence was unexpected, the other big surprise was the omission of former Hong Kong captain Semi Iafeta. Although the bustling number eight said he had recovered from the calf injury which kept him out of the Japan game, team officials declared he was still not fully fit. 'Semi hasn't been able to show anybody in training that he is back to form,' said Hong Kong head coach Dai Rees yesterday. 'He has been injured and not been training for the past 21/2 weeks and although he came back this week, he is still not 100 per cent.'
Iafeta said on Tuesday he was fit and 'ready to go'. Rees said Iafeta would still be in the mix for the last two games against Singapore and Kazakhstan.
'Players always want to play and they always say they are fit when they are not. We would prefer to give him more time and he will be considered for selection against Singapore,' Rees said. 'I don't believe in chopping and changing and making short-term decisions. I don't want to be reactive, but rather try to give the players all the confidence they need.
'We only have four internationals this season and I want to give the guys another opportunity to step up to the mark,' he added.
South Korea will be smarting from their shock 30-27 defeat at the hands of Kazakhstan last week.
'We are looking forward to the challenge Korea present,' Rees said. 'They will be wounded after last week and it's going to be tough, but performance is the key to getting a result. We must keep improving and progressing.'