Giant prop Nolan loses race for fitness
Steve Nolan has lost his race to regain fitness for the opening game of the HSBC Asian Five Nations Top Five tournament against the United Arab Emirates in Dubai tomorrow.
A scan of his troubled left ankle, just hours before the 23-man squad departed last night, confirmed the tighthead prop was still a little way off from recovering fully from an operation in January to repair ruptured ligaments.
Nolan (pictured) will still travel with the squad and continue his rehabilitation work, but with crucial games against South Korea, Japan and Kazakhstan looming, it has been decided he will miss the opener.
'It would be silly to risk playing him in the first game,' Dai Rees, Hong Kong Rugby Football Union's head of performance and national coach, said. 'Steve had a 50-50 chance, and although his ankle is healing well he is still troubled by it. A scan showed he has a slight tear in his calf muscle and, with him weighing 128kg, there is a real danger he could aggravate it so we have decided he will sit out the match.'
Nolan was expected to form part of an Asian Five Nations-debuting front-row with Hong Kong Football Club teammates Tom Bolland and Ian Ridgway.
Hong Kong will not only miss the imposing Nolan, they will also have to do without openside flanker Mark Goosen, who has failed to get a visa. While Nolan's place is likely to be filled by Valley prop Jack Bennett, Goosen's absence could see Mark Wright start as a breakaway.
'Goosen has been busy in his job as a pilot and he was only able to apply for a visa this week. He holds a South African passport and he needed to do it personally. Unfortunately, his application was rejected,' Rees said.
Senior coach Leigh Jones will name his line-up today, just before a light training session at The Sevens, the venue for tomorrow's game.
Meanwhile, UAE have made wholesale changes to the side who lost 62-3 to Hong Kong in last year's tournament, with more than half the team making their debut.
'We only have five players left from the [five nations] last year, two forwards and three backs,' UAE coach Duncan Hall said. 'We blooded 10 new caps in a warm-up game against Tunisia this month and there is not a lot of experience.
'In this department, Hong Kong will have the edge but we hope we can be competitive.'