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Hong Kong Rugby Union

Henry Poon poised for Hong Kong debut as Leigh Jones calls for deeper focus on local development

The scrum half is named on the bench for Saturday’s match against Malaysia and the need for home-grown stars will grow as new eligibility rules take hold

PUBLISHED : Friday, 25 May, 2018, 6:35pm
UPDATED : Friday, 25 May, 2018, 10:29pm

Henry Poon Yau-him is poised to become the latest Hong Kong Chinese player to make his test debut in the Asia Rugby Championship on Saturday and coach Leigh Jones says it’s time to get “local development mechanisms working more effectively”.

Poon follows in the footsteps of stars Salom Yiu Kam-shing and Cado Lee Ka-to but, with World Rugby’s residency requirement increasing from three years to five, Jones knows the reliance on local talent will grow.

“We’ve been saying it for a long time but the reality is now with the new ruling we have really got to focus in our attention and act upon it,” Jones said.

“With the new five-year ruling, it’s going to have implications on our feeder systems in four or five years.

“It’s not going to impact us immediately but it is certainly going to hit us in the next 10 years, therefore we have got to get our local development mechanisms working more effectively to get more local guys through the game.”

Scrum half Poon has been named on the bench for Hong Kong’s clash with Malaysia at Hong Kong Football Club and is looking forward to stepping out in front of family and friends.

“I’m really excited, I think it’s the perfect way to debut, playing at home, and it should be a good game,” said the 19-year-old.

“You don’t see many local people on the national team, it’s pretty cool [to get my chance]. Hong Kong is doing a pretty good job of raising awareness of the sport and spreading the word so that locals start playing more rugby.”

After victories on the road against Malaysia and South Korea, Hong Kong are in the box seat to win the ARC and progress to the next round of World Cup 2019 qualifying, a home and away series against Cook Islands.

They saw off Malaysia 67-8 three weeks ago and another big victory on Saturday will put Jones’ side in a virtually unassailable position ahead of the final game of the tournament against South Korea.

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“In theory we have done the hard part, but the hard part isn’t any good unless you do the easy part,” Jones said.

“Perhaps easy is the wrong word, but we have done the difficult bit and we just have to come and do a professional job on the weekend.”

Jones has made 11 changes to his starting 15, while Poon is joined by forwards Ted Soppet, Ronan Donnelly and Cris Pierrepont as potential debutants from the bench.

“This is an opportunity to grow the depth, if these guys slot back into the domestic competition with the confidence of an international cap it’s going to do the domestic league a lot of good,” Jones said.

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“Henry is one of a number of really promising scrum halves we have, it’s a position in Hong Kong we are blessed in. He needs to take his opportunity now with injuries to Jamie Hood and Cado Lee and I think he’s got the skill set to do that.

“We will be far more comfortable at home, but it’s going to be hot, it’s going to be sticky. Those who understand Asian rugby know it’s going to be almost wet weather rugby in beautiful conditions because the ball will be so slippery.”

Hong Kong squad:

Adam Fullgrabe, Jamie Tsang (c), Jack Parfitt, Jamie Pincott, Jack Delaforce, Nick Hewson, Phil Whitfield, Kane Boucaut, Jamie Lauder, Matthew Rosslee, Max Denmark, Ben Rimene, Tyler Spitz, Conor Hartley, Robbie Keith, Ted Soppet, Callum McFeat-Smith, Ronan Donnelly, Thomas Lamboley, Mike Parfitt, Cris Pierrepont, Henry Poon, Jack Neville, Kyle Sullivan.