Hong Kong push to finish on a high in Asia Rugby Championship finale against South Korea
Hong Kong coach Leigh Jones has made five changes to his starting 15 from last week’s loss to Japan as his charges prepare to battle for second place against South Korea in the 2016 Asia Rugby Championship finale at Hong Kong Football Club on Saturday.
Captain Nick Hewson returns as flanker after starting on the bench in Tokyo while lock Paul Dwyer, flanker Toby Fenn, scrum-half Jamie Hood and winger Salom Yiu Kam-shing are all back.
Lex Kaleca and Finlay Field also come in and will start on the bench, with Jack Delaforce, Matt Lamming, Rowan Varty, Tony Wong Ho-yeung, Adam Rolston and Lee Jones making way.
“We’ve been lucky, we’ve got a pretty strong complement to pick from,” Jones said Friday. “We’ve managed to avoid injuries which says a lot about our preparation, our conditioning and the medical team over the last month. We are looking forward to finishing the competition on a high.”
It will be Field’s first match for senior 15 – if he sees action after returning to Hong Kong for the summer in between his studies in Edinburgh – though he has already amassed several age-grade honours including representing Hong Kong at the World Rugby U20 Trophy in 2014 and 2015.
His debut has been fast-tracked due to the injury to Delaforce and the 20-year-old, whose father Richard also represented Hong Kong, is buzzing about the opportunity.
“I’m really excited,” he said. “It was sort of unexpected because I was literally just coming in to get a taste of it. I started training 10 days ago so it’s quite unexpected. It’s a massive deal for me – and for mum and dad.”
Jones is looking forward to seeing what Field brings to the side: “He’s a local Hong Kong lad gone away to university but absolutely keen and delighted to come back and represent his country,” the coach said.
“It bodes well for the future of Hong Kong rugby when guys like Fin drop everything and answer the call.
Hong Kong will be eager to knock off South Korea for the second time in the series after sneaking home 34-27 in their first hit-out in Incheon. Victory will ensure Hong Kong snare second spot on the ARC table behind victors Japan, while a loss puts them in danger of slipping to third.
With no challenge coming from division one winners Malaysia, the Top Three teams will remain the same in 2017 allowing Jones to focus on continued development rather than his team’s final ladder position.
“We’re very much in a building, development phase,” Jones said. “We’re in the middle of our first year of professionalism so it is going to take time. It always takes time for professionalism to take hold.”
South Korea’s aggression, size and physicality will put plenty of pressure on a Hong Kong forward pack that has been inconsistent throughout the tournament.
Hong Kong’s set-piece work has struggled at times, but Jones knows it can be dangerous when working properly.
“If we can get our set piece right we posed problems for both Korea and Japan, so that’s one area we will focus on this week,” he said. “If we can get parity or some ascendancy in that set piece I’m pretty confident we can play really well.”
South Korea have named a markedly different side to the one that took to the park in their last match against this weekend’s hosts, although Jones is still expecting a willing encounter.
“They will be desperate to finish on a high and they aren’t too far away, from what I have seen throughout the championship,” he said.
“The last thing we want is for them to get it right in Hong Kong. We need to pressure them. We need to get in their face on defence. We have isolated a few of their key players that we need to contain and we need to get them on the ground quickly.”
Hong Kong squad against South Korea (4 June)
1. Ben Higgins, 2. Lachlan Chubb, 3. Jack Parfitt, 4. Adrian Griffiths, 5. Paul Dwyer, 6. Nick Hewson (c), 7. Toby Fenn, 8. Dan Falvey, 9. Jamie Hood, 10. Ben Rimene, 11. Salom Yiu Kam-shing, 12. Tyler Spitz, 13. James Robinson, 14. Ryan Meacheam, 15. Alex McQueen
Replacements: 16. Jamie Tsang, 17. Adam Fullgrabe, 18. Alex Ng Wai-shing, 19. Finlay Field, 20. James Cunningham, 21. Cado Lee Ka-to,, 22. Lex Kaleca, 23. Niall Rowark