New blood will boost Hong Kong’s ‘X-factor’ as they face Japan in Asia Rugby Championship, says Leigh Jones
Coach confident five new players will make strong impact in their debuts in Tokyo
Coach Leigh Jones has hailed a large turnover in personnel as a positive as Hong Kong prepares to take on Japan in their opening Asia Rugby Championship match.
Five players are in line to win their first international cap in Tokyo on Saturday in a Hong Kong side that Jones says has more edge to it than the one that lost to Russia in their most recent test in November.
“The turnover of players is quite high and I think that’s a positive thing,” Jones said. “It’s indicative of Hong Kong and the transient nature of the place.
“I’m hoping we will have a little more X-factor available to us than we did back in November.”
Hooker Dylan Rogers and flanker Phil Whitfield are in the starting 15 and assured of their caps, while forwards Angus Dixon and Kyle Sullivan and fly half Robbie Keith are also in line to debut.
“Robbie has got a good attacking edge about him and Dylan will hopefully bring us a strong set piece, he’s a renowned scrummager within the club game,” Jones said.
“Phil is a good scavenger and I’m hoping the partnership between him and [No 8] Toby Fenn will work for us.
“We have to get in there and slow the Japanese ball down. Last week Japan produced 80 per cent of their recycle in under three seconds so we have got to try and slow them down.”
Hong Kong’s preparation for the ARC included their annual hit-out with the Waikato Chiefs development side, with Jones praising his team for their most competitive performance yet in that fixture, despite a loss.
They face a Japan side fresh off 47-29 and 80-10 wins against South Korea, with Jones questioning this year’s fixture, which sees teams play each other in two-week blocks rather than spread across the tournament as in previous years.
“I’m not sure the disjointed nature of this year’s comp is going to do anyone any good,” Jones said.
“It’s been nice to sit back and watch Japan and Korea lock horns, but we have been twiddling our thumbs to a certain extent and now we’re in and Korea are going to have to sit back for two weeks.
“I think it could be planned a little better so there is a little more continuity and flow to the fixtures.”
Seb Alfonsi is another that has been rewarded for good club form, forcing his way back into the side after a lengthy absence.
Ben Rimene, Alex McQueen and Jason Jeyam are among those still recovering after a busy sevens schedule, while captain Nick Hewson is unavailable due to a rib injury.
Forwards Ben Roberts and Jamie Tsang will act as co-captains in his absence and Jones is hoping they can lead from the front against Japan.
“It will be a tough day at the office, our set piece needs to function and we need to produce some quick ball,” Jones said.
“If we can produce some quick ball we are a match for most teams, but over recent years against teams like Japan our set piece has been shaky and then our ability to launch attacks has been mitigated.”
Hong Kong squad:
Ben Higgins, Ben Roberts, Dylan Rogers, James Cunningham, Adrian Griffiths, Phil Whitfield, Toby Fenn, Dan Falvey, Jamie Hood, Matt Rosslee, Seb Alfonsi, Lex Kaleca, Tyler Spitz, Salom Yiu Kam-shing, Rowan Varty, Jamie Tsang, Alex Ng Wai-shing, Angus Dixon, Kyle Sullivan, Thomas Lamboley, Ally Maclay, Cado Lee Ka-to, Robbie Keith.