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Hong Kong Cup of Nations

Hong Kong coach Leigh Jones to name strongest squad to face Kenya in Cup of Nations 2017 finale

Africans will be like a ‘wounded animal’ according to coach who might call up a few youngsters for clash at HKFC on Saturday

PUBLISHED : Friday, 17 November, 2017, 5:16pm
UPDATED : Friday, 17 November, 2017, 10:57pm

Hong Kong are expected to name a strong squad for the finale of the Cup of Nations 2017 against Kenya on Saturday at Hong Kong Football Club, starting at 5pm.

The tie is the third meeting between the two sides this year after Hong Kong drew (19-19) with the Africans before edging them in the second test, 43-34, in August in Nairobi.

The Kenyans will line up a similar squad as that of the second test in Nairobi earlier this year, according to Hong Kong coach Leigh Jones.

“It is pretty much the same squad we met in the second test. They brought their best team into that game and we shocked them and turned them over when they didn’t expect it. Now we need to repeat that performance.

“They will be proud. They are a quality team, all of the teams in the tournament are. Kenya are a wounded animal at the moment. They haven’t won a game yet and there is some sort of hangover left over from the Kenya tour as well. If they could beat one of the teams in the comp they would probably pick Hong Kong, so we have to be on our mettle and we’re aware of that.”

Wary of a potential backlash, coach Leigh Jones has tipped his strongest squad for the final round of the Cup of Nations as he looks to conclude the competition with a winning record, after Hong Kong narrowly dropped the opener to Russia (13-16) before bouncing back to beat Chile (13-6).

“It [the selection] is about rewarding performances to date, but also still having one eye on development in picking a few youngsters in Callum McFeat-Smith and Max Denmark. We are always trying to broaden our base,” said Jones.

With depth amassing in the national squads, Jones has been able to rotate his squad across the opening two matches with two distinct front row forward groups used during the tournament.

“It is apparent that we are producing some depth now. It’s great to have that level of competition in most positions and it is the way forward now. The demands placed upon the players after Saturday’s game is that they now have to take this form into their club competition and play well there.

“I’m seeing a positive, self-perpetuating cycle at the moment, and we have to keep feeding that. The club game has to grow for the international game to grow and vice versa.”

After a strong outing against Chile, Kyle Sullivan will earn his second straight start at lock.

“His club form wasn’t great coming into the competition but he seems to respond to well to the international demands and seems back where he was during the Kenya period. He played really well against Kenya away from home and seems to be getting back to that level now,” said Jones.

Nick Hewson will captain the squad from flanker. Jones has also rewarded his two ironmen of the series in lock James Cunningham and No. 8 Thomas Lamboley, both of whom are set to make a third straight start and have played every minute of the competition to date.

“What can I say about these two, they are men among men,” said Jones.

“Every team needs players like these, guys you know can back up and produce a level of performance that is always there or thereabouts. They know what is expected of them and that they can’t drop off. They need to give another top level performance and be out there plugging away for 80, 85 minutes.”

The most notable change in the squad is the selection of Jack Neville at fullback for his first test match anchoring the back three.

“You can overthink it sometimes, I think. This is about getting our best players on the pitch,” said Jones.