Baptism of fire awaits Hsieh as HK tackle Japan
Kowloon scrumhalf Kenneth Hsieh Chun-hang will win his first cap on Saturday in intimidating circumstances when he runs out against the might of Japan in the HSBC Asian Five Nations Top Five competition in Tokyo.
Hsieh will replace Tim Alexander in the starting line-up as Valley's livewire halfback is still recovering from a bruising campaign that has included two physical games against the Arabian Gulf and Kazakhstan.
'Tim has gone through the pain barrier and we want to give him as much time as possible to recover,' Hong Kong head coach Dai Rees said. 'He will come on as an impact player hopefully in the second half.'
Hsieh starred for Hong Kong in the under-20 Asian championship last September as well in February's tour of Taiwan with the Hong Kong 'A' team.
'We need to get the ball away from the contact area as quickly as possible against Japan, and Kenneth is the ideal person to do that. His pass is his strong point and we will need that as we are going in with an attacking frame of mind.'
While defeating Japan is an optimist's dream, Hong Kong will have to score at least four tries to grab a bonus point, or hope Kazakhstan lose to South Korea in the other game in Incheon to finish as runners-up. If Kazakhstan win, but without a bonus point, Hong Kong will still go through to the cross-continental play-off against Uruguay in the next stage of World Cup qualifying. Rees said a question mark also hovered over openside flanker Mark Wright, who has a bad shoulder and ankle. Both Alexander and Wright have not trained since the 19-14 victory over Kazakhstan 10 days ago.
The other blow is that tighthead prop Nigel Hobler will be missing after suffering a bad gash to his forehead in training, which needed internal stitches as well as 20 external stitches.
'Nigel had to go and see a plastic surgeon, and it was recommended he shouldn't play,' Rees said. 'But this gives an opportunity for Alex Ng [Wai-shing] to get a start. Nigel is 37 and it is time players like Alex take on more responsibility. This will be his chance.'
The other changes to the pack will see lock James Stokes come in for Nigel Clarke, who has retired and left for England, while in the back row Kwok Ka-chun will replace the injured Nick Hewson.
The bench will see the return of flanker Renaud Chavanis, centre Tsang Hing-hung and winger Adam Raby, who replaces Tom McQueen.
Hong Kong: 1-Pete Spizzirri, 2-Jon Abel, 3-Alex Ng Wai-shing, 4-James Stokes, 5-Charles French, 6-Kwok Ka-ming, 7-Mark Wright, 8-Simon Leung Ho-yam (captain), 9-Kenneth Hsieh Chun-hang, 10-Keith Robertson, 11-Alex McQueen, 12-Simon Hempel, 13-Rowan Varty, 14-Salom Yiu Kam-shing, 15-Colin Bisley. Replacements: 16-Alex Baddeley, 17-Jack Bennett, 18-Renaud Chavanis, 19-Rory Hussey, 20-Tim Alexander, 21-Tsang Hing-hung, 22-Adam Raby.