HK prepare for 'backlash' after A5N glory
With the surprise element being lost, Hong Kong are preparing for a 'backlash' as an experienced squad make a strong bid to break Japan's stranglehold on the HSBC Asian Five Nations this season.
Since the pan-Asian tournament began in 2008, Japan have been the dominant power, but hopes are high for Hong Kong - who finished runners-up in the tournament for the first time last year - after a strong 31-man squad was named yesterday for the four-match 2012 campaign, which gets under way in 15 days.
'Last year, I think we caught some teams by surprise and they were unaware of what we could do. That won't be the case this year and we have to be prepared for that,' said head coach Leigh Jones, who will be more hands-on, while national coach and Hong Kong Rugby Football Union's head of performance Dai Rees takes on a managerial role this season.
'We have the burden of carrying a favourites tag now. For the other teams in the A5N we are now their Japan in effect,' Jones said. 'They will want to have a cut at us just as we want to have a cut against Japan, so it is a different preparation for us this year. In some ways, I am trying to prepare the team for a backlash effect.'
Jones named only one new cap - hooker Lachlan Chubb, who follows in the footsteps of his father Morgan, who played and captained Hong Kong in the late 1980s and early '90s. The rest of the team have all been capped, although it will be the first A5N premiership outing for Hong Kong Football Club's dynamic front-row trio of Tom Bolland, Steve Nolan and Ian Ridgway.
Hong Kong open their campaign away to the United Arab Emirates in Dubai on April 27, will host South Korea and Kazakhstan next month, with the crucial Japan encounter sandwiched between the two home games, in Tokyo on May 19.
The presence of a formidable new front row - the Football Club trio who made their Hong Kong debut last December in the Cup of Nations in Dubai - has been the reason behind a bubbling sense of optimism, increased by new Japan coach Eddie Jones' decision to pick only one overseas-born player in his squad.
'It is great to have a bit of depth now in the front row, what with the new boys from Hong Kong Football Club coming in and adding to the players we successfully developed last year like Alex Ng [Wai-shing],' Leigh Jones said.
'We always want to measure ourselves against the best and it's probably been fair to say that in the past against Japan we have lacked that solid base we needed. I think the depth of our front row is going to really be able to help give us that base to play the type of rugby we want to play in the coming few weeks.'
The return of flankers Mark Wright and Rory Hussey will give extra bite to a powerful back row, which also includes the experienced Nick Hewson and Mark Goosen. The backline comprises mainly players from the sevens squad, including fly half Keith Robertson.
'I'm delighted with the squad,' Jones said. 'There are some omissions from the team this year which shows we have built some depth. Inside the squad there will be some strong challenges for positions, which is also a good sign as we enter a very intense phase of competition.'
Hong Kong squad
Ian Ridgway, Alex Ng Wai-shing, Steve Nolan, Jack Bennett, Rory Hussey, Alex Harris, Tom Bolland, Lachlan Chubb, Charles French, Dan Watson, Michael Waller, Renaud Chavanis, Nick Hewson, Mark Goosen, Pale Tauti (captain), Mark Wright, Terence Montgomery, Pete McKee, Tim Alexander, Cado Lee, Keith Robertson, Jamie Hood, Lee Jones, Ally Maclay, Anthony Haynes, Alex McQueen, Tom McQueen, Rowan Varty, Salom Yiu Kam-shing, Ross Armour, Mike McKee.