HK aim to get physical on tour of Europe
Hong Kong will embark on a groundbreaking three-game tour of Europe in December as part of their build-up to next year's Asian qualifiers, which will decide the automatic berth given to the region for the 2011 Rugby World Cup in New Zealand.
The 11-day tour from December 10 to 20 will include three internationals against Germany, the Czech Republic and the Netherlands. It will be the first time Hong Kong play a full international against these countries.
'We wanted to play against big, physical sides who were ranked above or near us on the IRB world rankings,' said Hong Kong head coach Dai Rees.
'This will be an ideal build-up as we look ahead to next April's World Cup qualifying tournament.'
Rees will take a 28-strong squad, just days after the sevens team competes at the East Asian Games (EAG). The two-day rugby sevens competition being played for the first time in the EAG will be held on December 5 to 6. Rees hopes the decision by the Hong Kong Rugby Football Union to look outside its traditional Asian boundaries will spur the players on when the domestic season begins next week.
'This is a fantastic opportunity for all those who qualify to play for Hong Kong,' Rees said. 'The tour to Europe will create a buzz and I'm sure everyone will be up for it when the league season gets under way.'
With a number of players becoming eligible to play for Hong Kong under the IRB's three-year residency rule, and others coming up through the ranks, Rees will be closely following the league over the next two months, making it crucial for players to find their feet early.
Hong Kong, who are ranked 34th in the world, will kick-off against Germany (ranking 26) in Heidelberg on December 12. They will then play against the Czech Republic (35) in Prague four days later, and wrap it all up against the Netherlands (36) in Amsterdam on December 19.
'Hong Kong plays a Northern Hemisphere season and it was prudent we pick teams from the same hemisphere who have the same playing season as us. On top of that, the timing will be just right as it will be the perfect build-up towards the World Cup qualifiers,' Rees said.
The HSBC Asian Five Nations in April and May will double up as the final qualifying round for the World Cup. Hong Kong will be up against defending champions Japan, South Korea, Kazakhstan and the Arabian Gulf in the battle for one direct entry to the World Cup. The runner-up will go into a repechage.
While the European tour will offer Rees an early chance to look at the players as well as map out a strategy to take on Asia's top three - Japan, Korea and Kazakhstan who are all ranked above Hong Kong - Rees has also set his sights on improving Hong Kong's world ranking.
'If we do well in Europe, our stock in the IRB rankings will rise as we are the away team,' said Rees.
It would also boost the confidence of the players, he added.