Opportunity knocks: Hong Kong to blood six new players in tough test against Kenya
Leigh Jones has selected the recently qualified Matthew Rosslee and youngster Liam Owens on a massive day for the team in Nairobi
The future is now for Leigh Jones and his men ahead of Saturday night’s test match against Kenya on what has been labelled a “really significant day for Hong Kong rugby”.
With as many as six players in line to win their first cap, years of planning and investment is coming to the fore as the team continues to plot its course towards the 2019 and 2023 World Cups.
Liam Owens and Matthew Rosslee are guaranteed to debut after being named in the starting 15, with Rosslee becoming eligible to represent Hong Kong only this week.
The South African-born centre has been a standout for Valley over the last three years and is the first elite rugby programme “project” player to debut at test level.
“We included Matt in the programme over a year ago despite him not being eligible in preparation for this moment,” said Dai Rees, Hong Kong’s general manager of performance rugby.
“We are all excited to see his performance.”
Another recently eligible project player, hooker Ben Roberts, was unavailable for selection due to a knock he suffered in Tuesday night’s friendly against Kenya A.
Young gun Owens has been named at fly half after impressing Jones with a lively performance in the tour opener.
“It is going to be a really significant day for Hong Kong rugby with the selection of the national age grade players and the high number of potential first caps,” Rees said.
“The tour has been invaluable in helping us season an expanded group of players and also to test these players in unfamiliar environments and conditions.”
Hugo Stiles, Mike Parfitt, Alexander Post and Joey Cheung Ho-yin are the current or recent under-20 players named on the bench.
Having played both second row and flank for Kowloon during the last Premiership season, Cheung has come on in leaps and bounds in recent times to catapult himself into the side.
“He has been training with the programme this summer and has responded well,” Rees said.
“They [Kowloon] gave him a lot of opportunities, which has helped his development tremendously.”
With a swag of players unavailable as they prepare for next week’s Asia Rugby Sevens Series opener and a 24-18 loss against Kenya A still fresh in their minds, Hong Kong will need to find something special to conjure a victory against a settled Kenya first side.
“The style of play looks the same across senior and A level so we expect to see more of the same,” Rees said.
“A lot of counter-attacks from deep, superior pace and a lot of physicality. It is going to be a big test for us.”
Senior players like lock Adrian Griffiths and fullback Ed Rolston will have a huge role to play, while captain Nick Hewson has shaken off a calf strain to take his place in the side.
“Since the opener we have been focusing on our defensive performance,” Rees said.
“We have had some intense training sessions over the past couple of days and the team has responded very positively. I think we are back on the money.”
Hong Kong squad to play Kenya
Ben Higgins, Jamie Tsang, Jack Parfitt, Adrian Griffiths, Finlay Field, Nick Hewson (c), Matthew Lamming, Daniel Falvey, Adam Rolston, Liam Owens, Charles Higson-Smith, Tyler Spitz, Matthew Rosslee, Jamie Robinson, Edmund Rolston, Alexander Post, Alex Ng Wai-shing, Adam Fullgrabe, Michael Parfitt, Tony Wong Ho-yeung, Joey Cheung Ho-yin, Charles Cheung Ho-ning, Hugo Stiles