HK to rotate captains for historic European tour

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 25 November, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 25 November, 2009, 12:00am

Captain Jon Abel will share the leadership role when Hong Kong step into the 'unknown' on the historic three-game tour of Europe next month.

Head coach Dai Rees, who yesterday announced a 29-strong squad for the first tour of Europe in the 57-year history of the Hong Kong Rugby Football Union, said the captaincy burden would be shared.

'We will be playing three games in seven days and I don't expect Jon [Abel] to start every game. We will have a senior group in charge and I'll name the captain on the day.'

Hong Kong's first game on the tour will be against Germany on December 12 in Heidelberg, before travelling to Prague for the test against the Czech Republic four days later and ending in Amsterdam to play the Dutch on December 19. Abel led Hong Kong during last season's HSBC Asian Five Nations, and Rees said it would be too demanding to expect one person to carry the captaincy role.

'This isn't a stripping of the captaincy from Jon. There will be a group of seniors like Nigel Clarke and Rowan Varty who will also look after the squad,' Rees said.

The squad will include seven players who will be involved in the East Asian Games sevens competition next weekend. But sevens skipper Jeff Wong will not be available. Other players ruled out due to other commitments are long-standing prop Nigel Hobler, centre Simon Hempel and winger Simon Smith.

There will be 10 new caps on tour - Andy Li, Charles French, Salom Yiu Kam-shing, Fan Shun-kei, Jack Bennett, Graham Manchester, Nick Hewson, Alex Baddeley, So Hok-ken and Tom McColl.

'The tour is a bit of an unknown really as we don't know all that much about our opposition,' Rees said. 'We do have a number of uncapped players but it is an experienced squad. We will be bringing back a deeper pool of players from Europe, all of whom will be competing for a spot in the team for the Asian Five Nations and Rugby World Cup qualifiers.'

The 2010 A5N Top Five competition will double up as the Asian qualifying round for the 2011 World Cup with Hong Kong up against Japan, South Korea, Kazakhstan and the Arabian Gulf. The winner will gain automatic qualification, while the runner-up will go into a play-off.

Rees is aiming for at least two wins on the tour and believes it will provide him with the perfect platform to launch Hong Kong's World Cup bid.

'This tour will take guys out of their comfort zone and it will be good preparation for our upcoming World Cup qualifying matches,' Rees said.

Germany are ranked 27th in the world, with the Netherlands 35th and the Czechs. Hong Kong are 34th.