7 to make Five Nations debuts in Almaty
Barnstorming No 8 Pale Tauti will be one of seven players tasting action for the first time in the HSBC Asian Five Nations Top Five competition when Hong Kong open their 2011 campaign away to Kazakhstan on Saturday.
It will not be the first cap for Tauti and the others, but the fact that almost half the team is changed from the one that took the field against the Arabian Gulf in the final game of last year's campaign is proof of the depth in the senior squad.
'We have seven players who will be playing in the Five Nations for the first time, but by no means are they new to the Hong Kong set-up as they were all part of the squad which toured Europe last December,' Hong Kong head coach Dai Rees said.
'The importance of going to Europe pre-Christmas is being seen now. We are not going in cold with a new combination of players. All these guys have played together for some time and that will benefit us against Kazakhstan.'
Apart from Tauti, hooker Brent Taylor and lock Ollie Jones will be packing down in their first A5N.
In the backs, there will be a new midfield combination of Lee Jones and skipper Tom McColl, scrumhalf Peter McKee and fullback Ross Armour.
'It is the strongest squad we have assembled in the years I have been here and it is the result of two years of hard work in developing and widening the base of players,' Rees said.
'We have nurtured along some of the players and have some new players available which is just as well as this is the toughest A5N challenge we face since the tournament began.'
Hong Kong leave for Almaty today. Their other away game is to newcomers Sri Lanka in Colombo, while the two home games are against defending champions Japan and the United Arab Emirates.
Two years ago, Hong Kong lost 25-6 to Kazakhstan in Almaty, but Rees said they were better prepared and knew what to expect this time.
Senior coach Leigh Jones said: 'We are expecting a big heavy pack and a very direct game from Kazakhstan and we need to be able to cope with that. Our set piece has to perform and we need to be confident of producing good ball for a talented backline. It will be a tough game and I think the selection we have made reflects those expectations.'
The squad comprises 19 of the 27 players who went on a four-day training camp to the Philippines last week. The starting line-up is the same as that in the 74-10 victory against the Philippines.