Hong Kong juniors go hunting in Zimbabwe for their first World U20 Trophy success
Hong Kong’s national junior squad are in Zimbabwe on the hunt for a first victory in the World Rugby U20 Trophy on what is their third consecutive appearance in the tier-two age-grade competition.
But drawn into pool B alongside debutants Spain and experienced campaigners USA and Namibia, the Hong Kong youngsters have their work cut out. Samoa, relegated from the top-tier World Rugby U20 Championship last year, top pool A along with Uruguay, Fiji and hosts Zimbabwe.
U20 coach Peter Drewett and the HKRU selectors have called up an experienced side for the competition, which kicks off on Tuesday.
Nearly half of the 26-man squad are veterans of last year’s competition in Portugal, while 18 squad-members were in the side that qualified by winning the regional tournament in Singapore in December.
“Unfortunately due to school and university exams and injuries, not all of the Asian title-winning squad was available,” said Drewett.“In terms of player development, that has created an excellent opportunity for some of our other national age-grade players to gain valuable experience at the highest level.”
In Harare, experienced campaigners Hugo Stiles, James Christie, Liam Owens and John William Markley are all marking their third U20 Trophy tournament appearance. Markley, who is also a full-time member of the HKRU’s new professional Elite Rugby Programme, will co-captain the squad alongside Pierce Mackinlay-West.
Christie, Stiles and Owens will be joined by another familiar face in the backline in playmaker Matt Worley, who joins the squad from his stint with the Racing 92 academy in France.
The squad also features a number of players who have amassed significant experience in this year’s Hong Kong Premiership campaign, particularly from Hong Kong Scottish who blooded a number of young players this season.
Scottish players Mark Coebergh, Alessandro Nardoni, Michael Earley, Ken Encarnacion and Austin Robertshaw are all with the Hong Kong team in Zimbabwe, with Nardoni and Encarnacion making their second U20 Trophy appearances.
Mackinlay-West (HKFC), Ron Siew (USRC Tigers) and Ben Tang (Kowloon) are three other players who saw regular time at Premiership and Premiership A level this season.
Hong Kong’s first match will be against Spain and Drewett believes the players are ready to cope with the physicality they expect from the Europeans.
“We’ve spent a lot of time since Portugal working on our fitness and technical skills under pressure,” he said.
Hong Kong pool B matches:
- Hong Kong 8-44 Spain (19 April 2016, 18:00 HKT @ Harare Sports Club)
- Hong Kong 12-32 USA (23 April 2016, 22:00 HKT @ Harare Sports Club)
- Hong Kong 8-70 Namibia (27 April 2016, 18:00 HKT @ Harare Sports Club)
Hong Kong U20 squad:
Paul ALTIER (Valley); Cris CALANZA (HKFC); James CHRISTIE (Northumbria Uni); Hugo CHUI (HKFC); Mark COEBERGH (HK Scottish); Jack COMBES (Hartpury College); Michael EARLEY (HK Scottish); Ken ENCARNACION (HK Scottish/Gai Wu); Oisin HARBITZ (Valley); Jonathan HEALY (HK Scottish); Liam HERBERT (HKFC); James KARTON (USRC Tigers); Pierce MACKINLAY-WEST (co-captain, HKFC); John MARKLEY (co-captain, Valley); Alessandro NARDONI (HK Scottish); Lachlan OLIVER-KERBY (DB Pirates); Liam OWENS (Edinburgh Uni); Austin ROBERTSHAW (HK Scottish); Ron SIEW (Tigers); Callum McFEAT-SMITH (HKFC); Hugo STILES (Bath Uni); Ben TANG Cheuk-hang (Kowloon); Anthony WILSON (Tigers); WONG Ming-kei (Tigers); Matt WORLEY (Racing 92); Wesley YIP (Kowloon)