Hong Kong eye win as Clarke's wedding gift
The stage is set for Nigel Clarke to make a memorable exit and for his teammates to give him a fitting farewell as Hong Kong take on Kazakhstan in a must-win clash in the HSBC Asian Five Nations Top Five competition at Sports Road today.
Clarke is set to leave for England tomorrow.
On May 22, the day that Hong Kong play their final match in the tournament in Tokyo, when they face the might of Japan, Clarke will be walking up the aisle to marry his sweetheart, Jessica.
The DeA Tigers flanker will be hoping to leave on a high, knowing that he has played his role in getting the job done - that of defeating Kazakhstan this afternoon, which should go a long way to ensuring Hong Kong finish second in this competition and claim the World Cup play-off berth against Uruguay.
'This could be my swansong,' Clarke said yesterday. 'I don't know if I will come out of retirement to play against Uruguay. I think I've got one more good game in me.'
While the 34-year-old Clarke is unsure of his rugby future after marriage, he is convinced that Hong Kong will be making the trip to Montevideo in July.
'It will be a very tough game, but we are confident of winning,' said Clarke, who once again will be in the second-row alongside Charles French.
A back-row forward for all his seven years in Hong Kong, Clarke has been moved to lock for this campaign after an injury to James Stokes. Stokes is now fit, but will start on the bench.
Head coach Dai Rees has called for a wide and open game to keep alive their World Cup dream. Rees believes minimum physical contact up front will be the key to defeating Kazakhstan.
'We need to play away from their forwards and play expansively. This is the only way we can put pressure on them and win,' Rees said as Hong Kong look at getting their 2011 World Cup qualifying campaign back on track after last week's setback in Bahrain.
Hong Kong were sucked into a physical confrontation in Almaty last year and ended up losing 25-6, despite Kazakhstan being down to 13 men for most of the second half.
'We got involved in a physical battle. We now know that to beat them, we will need to keep that aspect of the game to a minimum, and move the ball out wide,' Rees said.
Kazakhstan arrived on Thursday night and had their first training run yesterday. Missing injured back-row powerhouse Anton Rodoy, they seemed to feel the humidity.
'We have made several changes to the side which won against the Arabian Gulf,' said captain and No8 Timur Mashurov. Asked if they would miss Rodoy, Mashurov smiled and said: 'We will see tomorrow.'
Hong Kong will be looking at rebounding after last week's shock 16-9 defeat at the hands of the Arabian Gulf, whose forwards dominated the scrums. The onus will be on the home team's pack to set a solid attacking platform by winning good ball, and for halves Tim Alexander and Keith Robertson to use it wisely.
The Hong Kong scrum lost six of their own put-ins against the Gulf, but Clarke said the self-belief was back in the local camp after two good training sessions this week.
'We should have won that match, but we didn't click the way we did against South Korea. But the confidence is back in the team,' said Clarke who scored a brace of tries in the opening 32-8 victory against South Korea.
Anything close to a repeat performance will give Clarke the perfect goodbye.