‘I would take a win over 50th cap,’ says Hong Kong milestone man Nick Hewson ahead of Cup of Nations clash with Russia
The 33-year-old regains captaincy for tournament opener and feels his side can challenge their more fancied opponents
Almost a year to the day since he watched on from the sidelines as Hong Kong went down to Russia, Nick Hewson will captain his side in his 50th test as the Cup of Nations kicks off on Friday.
Russia are again the opponent and 33-year-old Hewson says being left out provided the motivation he needed to keep putting in the hard yards.
“I’ve been working harder, I was disappointed last year when I didn’t get selected,” he said. “It was just one of those times where you have got to go back and focus on things you’re good at and put it on the pitch.”
Hewson has played five of Hong Kong’s six tests in 2017 and becomes the second player after Alex Ng Wai-shing to notch 50 caps since the 1997 handover.
He made his debut in a loss to Germany in 2009 and has missed only nine matches since, last captaining Hong Kong against Zimbabwe in last year’s Cup of Nations.
“It’s pretty special, Hong Kong’s been a home for me for 12 years,” Hewson said. “It’s big for my family, I met my wife here and had my kids here. [But] I would take a win over the 50th cap.
“I guess I’ve been pretty lucky with injuries and been able to keep my fitness levels and performance levels up. It’s amazing how much the team has progressed since 2009 and how professional the set-up has got.”
Friday’s match will cap a big seven days for Hewson, with Sully – a horse he bred with his parents on their Taranaki farm in New Zealand – running second in the Victoria Derby during the Melbourne Cup Carnival.
“It was huge, I like to think I helped advise the mating. My parents might debate that now,” Hewson joked.
“My parents and I are very close with all our horses and we talk about them on a daily basis and the breeding and selling of them.”
Hewson will share the captaincy duties with Ben Roberts throughout the tournament and he feels Hong Kong are in a much better position to challenge Russia than when they went down 27-0 last November.
“The Kenya trip [in August] was very successful for us so hopefully we can keep the momentum going,” he said. “There’s a good vibe in the team, we will certainly give them a good shot.”
The tournament, which also features Chile and Kenya, is another important stepping stone ahead of next year’s World Cup qualifying and Hewson says Hong Kong have every right to dream big.
“The World Cup has got to be the goal for us, it’s a carrot that’s dangling and if the guys continue to train as hard as they are I think we’re a chance of achieving our goal,” he said.
Kenya take on Chile in the opening match of the tournament on Friday and are still coming to terms with the death of Mike Okombe, who last played for them against Hong Kong last year.
Okombe was stabbed by his girlfriend following an argument during a friend’s birthday party on Saturday night, according to news reports.
“To his family, friends, Kenyan clubs and all our friends around the world, we want to say we stand together with Michael Okombe so that the spirit of him and the spirit of the sport can live together,” Kenya team manager Leonard Wangila said at Thursday’s tournament launch.
Hong Kong’s team features five potential 15s debutants, with Conor Hartley earning his first cap on the wing and Callum McFeat-Smith, Kane Boucaut, Mike Coverdale and Jack Neville starting on the bench.
Max Woodward and Cado Lee Ka-to have returned from the Japan Top League for the tournament and the match-hardened pair will bring a physical edge to the Hong Kong side.
Hong Kong squad:
Dan Barlow, Dayne Jans, Dylan Rogers, James Cunningham, Adrian Griffiths, Nick Hewson (c), Toby Fenn, Thomas Lamboley, Jamie Hood, Matthew Rosslee, Conor Hartley, Lex Kaleca, Max Woodward, Salom Yiu Kam-shing, Robbie Keith, Ben Roberts, Ben Higgins, Callum McFeat-Smith, Kyle Sullivan, Kane Boucaut, Mike Coverdale, Cado Lee Ka-to, Jack Neville.