Hong Kong pack braced for blazing attack
Forward battle key to Kazakhstan challenge
Hong Kong captain Semi Iafeta and Kazakhstan counterpart Timur Mashurov were yesterday involved in a face-off over the handsome prize for the winners of the inaugural HSBC Asian Five Nations at the end of this month - a richly handcrafted 8.4kg sterling silver trophy made in India.
It is likely to be the closest either captain will ever come to the trophy donated to Asian rugby by the Calcutta Cricket and Football Club - the oldest surviving rugby club in the world outside the UK, having been established in 1792 - and the Bombay Gymkhana.
This is because Japan are clear favourites to grab the booty. But Hong Kong coach John Walters refuses to be cowed by the notion that the perennial Asian heavyweights are in a different class. 'No one goes into a competition aiming for second place,' said the ever-optimistic Walters. 'We believe we can win it. Why not?'
Why not indeed, but if Hong Kong are to justify that belief they will have to raise their game a couple of notches from last week's 20-12 victory over the Arabian Gulf.
It will be a bruising outing against Kazakhstan, their opponents today at Hong Kong Football Club, in a match which will most likely be decided in the forwards.
'They will be huge, very physical and very direct,' said Hong Kong winger Ricky Cheuk Ming-yin, who scored a fortuitous try against the Gulf. 'But we have the forwards who can handle them. I got a bit of a lucky bounce, but I will take it any day for that was my first 15s game in a year. I was a little bit under-prepared last week, but I'm ready to go now.'
Today's game will be Kazakhstan's opening match in the five-team elite division. Mashurov, a big No8, is looking forward to it.
'It will be close. Although we have not played much rugby recently, and it will take some time for us to come together, I still think we can win,' he said.
Walters said: 'They are a bit of an unknown quantity. We know they will be big and be a structured side who will rely on the set pieces. They have also got a good goal-kicker.
'Our aim is to keep improving. The target is to win all our games.'
Although Iafeta turned up at the unveiling of the trophy, he won't take part in the action today as he is still nursing an injured hamstring. Flanker Nigel Clarke will deputise for him.
There are two changes to the Hong Kong team, with openside flanker Kris Marin and winger Andrew Wong Kee coming in to replace Renaud Chavanis and Simon Smith.