Valley’s Nick Hewson replaces Tom McColl as Hong Kong skipper
Multi-talented flanker sets ambitious target to lead World Cup bid
Nick Hewson – "a player who ticks all the boxes" – is the new captain of Hong Kong as they chase a 2015 World Cup berth next year.
WhichWay Valley's dynamic flanker was on Monday unveiled as the new 15s captain by the Hong Kong Rugby Football Union, which has ambitiously targeted a place in the repêchage at next year's qualifiers for the World Cup in England.
"We looked for someone who is not only a quality player, but also a leader and he ticks all the boxes," said Hong Kong head coach Leigh Jones. "He is well respected within the squad and a player I have built up a great working relationship with."
Hewson, a 29-year-old New Zealander, takes over the captaincy from centre Tom McColl, a Cathay Pacific pilot finding it more difficult to devote his full attention to the game.
Hewson, a former Waikato age-group provincial representative, has completed his seven years' residence. He is now a full-time athlete at the Hong Kong Sports Institute and an integral part of the sevens squad.
"I'm delighted at being handed this responsibility. It is a great honour," Hewson said. "I'm playing well and am certainly fitter and stronger than ever, and I'm looking forward to what will be a crucial next six months with the main goal being to qualify for the World Cup."
Hewson will face a tough first assignment as skipper with Hong Kong playing two home tests against Belgium this month. The Christmas series on December 17 at King's Park and December 21 at Hong Kong Football Club, will serve as a build-up to the HSBC Asian Five Nations Top Five competition starting in April, which will double up as the regional qualifiers for the World Cup.
With Japan being favourites to win the tournament again - they have won all six previous editions unbeaten - and clinch the automatic berth give to Asia for the 2015 World Cup, Hong Kong's aim will be to finish second and qualify for the repêchage.
With this in mind, it is doubly important Hong Kong play opponents ranked higher than themselves for if they make it to the repêchage round they will come up against teams of a similar calibre to Belgium, ranked 25th, four places above Hong Kong.
"It will be a massive test. We played against them last year in Econ [Emirates Airlines Cup of Nations] and they will provide us with the ideal opposition as we look ahead to the Asian Five Nations," Hewson said.
Hong Kong lost the final of the four-team tournament in Dubai to Belgium, 24-12, and will be hoping to make amends at home. The Dubai event was scrapped after the airline ended its sponsorship, resulting in the HKRFU arranging the bilateral series.
"It's a shame in one respect because the Econ tournament was gaining momentum, attracting quality teams like Belgium. But on the other hand it is good being at home for our Christmas preparations because of the work pressure that touring puts on the side," Jones said.