Dad Hempel back for must-win Singapore clash

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 14 May, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 14 May, 2009, 12:00am

Proud new father Simon Hempel has been drafted back into the Hong Kong team for this Saturday's 'must-win' game against Singapore in the HSBC Asian Five Nations Championship at Football Club.

Centre Hempel didn't travel to Incheon last week, staying behind for the birth of his first child - Harry - who was born last Saturday, hours before the game against South Korea.

'It has worked out well for him. Harry was born and now hopefully Simon will be available for the game away to Kazakhstan next week, too,' said Hong Kong head coach Dai Rees. 'But right now, we are not thinking of Kazakhstan, all our focus is on Singapore.'

Having lost both their opening games against Japan (59-6) and South Korea (36-34), Hong Kong will have to defeat Singapore to avoid the unwanted pressure of needing to defeat Kazakhstan on their home turf in Almaty.

'A win over Singapore will allow us to remain in the World Cup frame. It doesn't come any bigger than this,' Rees said. 'Our World Cup qualifying campaign starts right now and we want to make sure we are in the running next year.'

The A5N next year will be the Asian qualifier for the 2011 World Cup in New Zealand. The winners will gain direct entry while the second-placed team will go into a repechage against a team from the Americas. To be in contention, Hong Kong have to secure their place in the elite division. The bottom-placed team this year will be relegated to the First Division.

Rees had no hesitation bringing back Hempel into the midfield, even though his replacement last week, teenager Ed Rolston, had an outstanding game scoring one of the five second-half tries as Hong Kong stormed back from a 31-3 deficit.

'Ed did exceptionally well playing for the first time at centre, but this is a crucial game and we need a specialist 12,' said Rees.

The only other change is the solid presence of Angus Washington in the second row. Washington will start for the first time in this tournament, resulting in Ivan Zenovic moving to the bench.

'Angus adds a bit more weight and size to the pack. He has been blooded in the first two games coming off the bench and he deserves to start,' Rees said.

Team tweaking

Changes to the Hong Kong line-up for this week's showdown against Singapore: 2