Hong Kong's sevens captain Jamie Hood has found his niche at outside centre in fifteens. PHOTO: Kenji Demura | RJP.
Hong Kong coach Andrew Hall has named his squad for the clash with South Korea in Round 5 of the Asia Rugby Championship (ARC) on Saturday in Incheon.
Hong Kong lost the first match to Korea 33-26 at home and are itching for a measure of revenge at the Namdong Asiad Rugby Stadium, but they will need to fire on all cylinders if they harbour hopes of defending their runners-up position in Asian rugby.
Hong Kong are chasing their first win of the Series after losing 41-0 to Japan in Round 3 in Tokyo. Hong Kong are on two points after collecting all possible bonus points in the loss to Korea - second in the standings behind Japan on six points. A win for Hong Kong - while preventing the hosts from taking out any bonus points - will be enough to leapfrog Hong Kong into a second place finish.
Andy Hall understands the scenario, saying, “There is pressure every game of course, but every one in the team knows the importance of this outcome. We have prepared with that in mind this week but it’s not hanging over us. Our focus has revolved around the fact that we didn’t do ourselves justice in our first encounter with the Koreans.
“We didn’t anticipate giving up 25 points in the first half the way we did in Hong Kong and we are out to address that. I’m not saying that we won’t concede points but if we do give them opportunities we want them to have to work much harder than they did in game one,” said Hall.
After using the majority of his 35-man squad over the opening rounds, Hall has settled on his first choice selections for the vital away clash and has gone with a forward heavy team with a six-two forwards to backs split on the reserves bench for what is always a physical confrontation with the burly Koreans.
An all-Hong Kong Scottish trio gets the front row nod with John Aikman and Jack Parfitt propping up Lachlan Chubb at hooker.
“Over the first two games we wanted to establish our strongest combinations, particularly in the front row and we are confident that the three selected are our strongest starting unit at the moment,” said Hall.
“They have the ability to get the priorities done, handling their responsibilities at the scrum and lineout, but what makes these three stand out is their work rate around the park. They are almost like having another back row.
Prop Jack Parfitt earns another start for Hong Kong after a strong performance versus Japan. PHOTO: Kenji Demura | RJP.
“Jack Parfitt had an outstanding performance against Japan in Tokyo. He has been quite rightly rewarded for that performance with another start this weekend and both Lachlan and John are high work rate players.
“All of them are very active around the park, which is key, as we want to play a tempo game on Saturday,” added Hall.
A fast start will be essential for Hong Kong’s hopes and Hall wants to see that pace continue for the duration.
“We want to play a high-tempo game. In the first match we felt that Korea could not handle the intensity of the pace of the game, particularly in the second half, so we want to ensure that the game moves. We aren’t going to play harem scarem, but it is to our advantage to introduce and maintain tempo both when the ball is in play and between the whistles. You need to have the cattle to be able to do that and that has informed our selection,” Hall added.
Backing up the front row are locks Paul Dwyer and new cap Adrian Griffiths with the back row of Matt Lamming and captain Nick Hewson joined by Toby Fenn, who earned his first cap for Hong Kong in the match versus Korea.
“Adrian has been one of the standouts in domestic rugby since arriving in Hong Kong,” said Hall. “He presents a different kind of player to Paul Dwyer but we are after combinations that work and the two have complemented each other well in their domestic pairing at Hong Kong Cricket Club this season.
“Paul is a more traditional up and down type of lock forward, while Adrian offers something different. He gives us a bit more ability in the air, particularly at the lineout and restart, which is one of his strengths. He’s a great defensive lineout specialist,” added Hall.
Hall has kept faith with much of the backline that started versus Japan with Cado Lee Ka To pairing with Ben Rimene as the halfbacks. The McQueen brothers, Tom and Alex are at right wing and fullback respectively, with Yiu Kam Shing rounding out the back three. The centre pairings are the same as in Tokyo two weeks ago in Max Woodward and Jamie Hood.
“We have seen a couple of combos develop over the tournament and one of the finds for us has been Jamie Hood at outside centre. Jamie is perhaps our most versatile player with the ability to play anywhere in the backs but I think he has found his niche at outside centre.
“He has the skillset required of a good 13. He has great leadership and communication, he has strong individual skills and decision-making and his defence is solid. He has worked very well with Max, particularly against Japan two weeks ago, and we are looking forward to these two repeating their partnership.
Fly half Rimene will retain the kicking duties versus Korea. “Continuity is important for a goal kicker and we want to let Ben continue in that role against Korea,” Hall added.
“Ben is a key to our aspirations on Saturday. We are under no illusions. We need to score tries while also keeping Korea in check. Ben can pull the strings for us from 10 and he knows how to mix things up. He knows what we are trying to achieve in terms of our game flow and tempo but also understands that there are areas of the pitch we want to be playing from and he can help us reach those areas,” said Hall.
There will be no promotion and relegation match in June after Sri Lanka, winners of the ARC Division I championship, decided not to pursue the voluntary challenge option for 2015. The promotion match will be mandatory from 2016 onwards but for this year the third placed finisher in the new Asia Rugby Championship format will be safe from any challenges.
“It is a bit of a relief not to have a challenge match,” said Hall, “Not in terms of us being threatened by the challenger but more for the player’s sake. The guys are coming off of a very long season and there is a lot of important rugby upcoming. So it will be good to stand them down for awhile,” said Hall.
Hall is expecting a strong performance on the road, despite Hong Kong’s relative lack of success in Korea since the inception of the previous Asian 5 Nations format in 2008. Hong Kong lost the most recent match-up 43-22 between the two teams in Korea in 2013.
“Playing away doesn’t change things for us,” Hall said. “Korea are a familiar foe and the venue is familiar for the sevens guys from the Asian Games. Most of this side have been in the national set-up for a while and are used to travelling so that can’t be an excuse. We need to condition ourselves to being at a minimum the second best team in Asia and this is all part of that process,” concluded Hall.
Coach Hall expects a similar commitment from Korea and is not thrown by the Korean tactics of making eight changes against Japan last week, a move widely believed to be engineered to rest key players for this weekend’s clash.
“It would be foolhardy to think that because they conceded 66 points to Japan and we conceded fewer that we should expect to beat Korea. Eight players is a significant number of changes for them to make and maybe they were blooding new players, but I have no doubt that they will be focusing on this game and bringing their best to bear - as will we.”
The South Korea v Hong Kong match will kick off at the Namdong Asiad Rugby Ground at 12.00 | GMT 0300. For the live stream please visit the Asia Rugby Championship link at (geo-blocking restrictions may apply):
Saturday will close out Korea’s appearance in the inaugural Asia Rugby Championship while Hong Kong will host Japan on 23 May at Aberdeen Stadium.
Hong Kong XV v South Korea (16 May 2015)
1. John AIKMAN; 2. Lachlan CHUBB; 3. Jack PARFITT; 4. Adrian GRIFFITHS*; 5. Paul DWYER; 6. Matt LAMMING; 7. Toby FENN; 8. Nick HEWSON (captain); 9. Cado LEE Ka To; 10. Ben RIMENE; 11. Salom YIU Kam Shing; 12. Max WOODWARD; 13. Jamie HOOD; 14. Tom McQUEEN; 15. Alex McQUEEN; 16. Alex HARRIS; 17. Leon WEI Hon Sum; 18. Jack NIELSEN; 19. Jack DELAFORCE; 20. Alex BADDELEY; 21. Damian BAILEY; 22. Tyler SPITZ; 23.Niall ROWARK.
*Hong Kong debut