Chance of redemption as Hong Kong power up for Russia
Hosts can set the record straight in Cup of Nations after two losses to Europeans last year
Head coach Andy Hall has packed his side with power for the decisive Hong Kong Cup of Nations clash against Russia on Saturday, hoping they can reverse a two-game sweep at the hands of their European opponents last year.
The hosts were beaten at home 30-11 and 37-29 by the Bears but are hoping that experience and familiarity with their opponents will combine with home advantage to give them the edge at Hong Kong Football Club (kick-off 17:00).
"Last year we were caught out a bit by Russia who were somewhat of an unknown quantity, but that is no longer the case," said Hall.
"We improved over the two matches last year and are aware of the challenges they pose.
"Russia are the team to beat and their performance in the first two matches has clearly shown that they have quality throughout their side.
"Having said that, we have also improved since last year, adding some depth in key positions and our preparations have been better this year.
"We know there is a challenge ahead of us, but within the squad there is real belief and we are going to have a go at them," Hall added.
Hong Kong beat Zimbabwe 30-11 and Portugal 13-6 to set up a decider against the Russians, who came from behind to defeat Portugal 23-12 in their opening match followed by a 50-5 romp over Zimbabwe on Tuesday.
Zimbabwe and Portugal will open Saturday's programme (kick-off 14:00) in a battle for third place.
Key to Hong Kong's chances will be negating the powerful Russian forward pack.
"The size of their pack is an obvious weapon," said Hall. "Their number eight [Viktor Gresev] is very significant for them. He is a strong carrier of the ball, and if we give their forwards space, we will be in trouble.
"Their captain [Vasily Artemyev] is also dangerous. He has Premiership experience in England and has played at the Rugby World Cup."Hall is asking his players to dig deep to find a "new level" in the Cup of Nations finale on Saturday.
“We need to tighten things up a bit and to be more accurate and ready to take advantage of our opportunities," he said.
"Defensively we have shipped too many one-on-one tackles but we haven’t really been punished for it. If we do the same against Russia or give them too much space to operate we will be looking down the barrel of conceding seven points."
Bears skipper Artemyev said his team will be expecting a difficult fight from Hong Kong and they have been training with a modified game plan in mind.
"Hong Kong will definitely be the hardest match of the tournament," Artemyev said.
"They are much improved from last year, both in their style of play and continuity and their overall strength. If they get over the gain-line in the first few phases they can be very dangerous. We will alter our style a bit to try and keep them off balance.”
Hong Kong squad
1-Rohan Cook, 2-Alex Harris, 3-Jack Parfitt, 4-Paul Dwyer, 5-Jack Delaforce, 6-James Cunningham, 7-Nick Hewson (c), 8-Dan Falvey, 9-Cado Lee Ka-to, 10-Ben Rimene, 11-Tom McQueen, 12-Lex Kaleca, 13-Tyler Spitz, 14-Brad Raper, 15-Ed Rolston
Replacements: 16-Alex Ng Wai-shing, 17-Jamie Tsang Hon-man, 18-John Aikman, 19-Adrian Griffiths, 20-Toby Fenn, 21-Tom Marshall, 22-Niall Rowark, 23-Jamie Robinson