Hong Kong name squad for opening test against Kenya

Slatem, Purvis and Gallaher will make their debuts in the starting fifteen of coach Leigh Jones’ squad for the first of two tests in Nairobi

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 19 August, 2017, 5:58pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 19 August, 2017, 11:51pm

The Hong Kong Rugby Union have announced its squad for the opening test match on their two-test tour of Kenya on Sunday at the RFUEA Ground in Nairobi.

Coach Leigh Jones has tipped an experienced core of players to open against Kenya with just three debutants in the starting fifteen, all in the backs. Hong Kong Cricket Club scrumhalf Liam Slatem and Tigers duo, winger Sam Purvis and fullback Liam Gallaher, are set to earn their first caps against Kenya. The game kicks off at 9pm Hong Kong time.

Four further potential first caps are on the bench including Tigers prop Dan Barlow, Valley hooker Dayne Jans and U20s graduates back James Christie and flanker Pierce Mackinlay-West

Prop Alex Ng Wai-shing will start on the bench and is a near certainty to mark his 50th cap for Hong Kong, joining Liam Owens and Robbie Keith as the other capped players in the reserves. Owens earned his first cap last year in Kenya while Keith was capped earlier this year in the Asia Rugby championship campaign.

The new pieces will be supported by an experienced group of forwards with Ben Higgins, Jamie Tsang and Jack Parfitt the starting front row, supported by James Cunningham and Kyle Sullivan at lock. With the battle to control the breakdown an essential element for success, Jones has tipped a mobile back-row in flankers Matt Lamming and Nick Hewson and No.8 Thomas Lamboley.

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Slatem marks his first cap in partnership with Matt Rosslee who assumes his normal spot at number 10. The proven centres pairing of Lex Kaleca and Tyler Spitz will look to stop the Kenyan attack at the source while a fresh-faced back three in winger Purvis, fullback Gallaher and right wing Marcus Ramage, who made his Hong Kong debut in last November’s Cup of Nations, will look to provide the final line of defence for Hong Kong.

Dai Rees, chief rugby operations officer at the HKRU, commented on the test series saying: “We expect an even tougher challenge from Kenya than last year as they are coming off a very successful African Cup where they nearly unseated Namibia to win.

“That is exactly what we want from the tour, as it is our first time offshore in a while and we want to push all of the players, including the veterans, out of their comfort zone.

“Despite a number of new faces in the touring party, there is more experience across the group for us this year, and we will be looking for some improvement from last year’s tour and a good performance on strange ground,” Rees added.

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Reports out of Kenya indicate that Hong Kong are not the only side looking to blood new players on tour. Six players will be on debut for Kenya in the opening test as new Kenya coach Jerome Paarwater has made 17 changes from the squad that took part in the 2017 Africa Gold Cup earlier this summer.

Kenya finished second behind Namibia in the region’s premier Tier I competition that also featured Uganda, Zimbabwe, Tunisia and Senegal.

Captain and lock George Nyambua told Kenya’s CapitalFM Sports ahead of the test match that Hong Kong were not to be underestimated.

“Hong Kong will come out hard because we beat them last year, but we are prepared and won’t underrate them. I don’t see much change in the squad, because we have been training for a while as a team so we knew each other; it’s just a matter of synergy,” Nyambua said.