HKRU’s Regal Hotels Cup of Nations
Hong Kong coach Leigh Jones has included five potential new caps in his side for the opening match of the Cup of Nations 2016. Hong Kong opens its account versus a relative unknown in Papua New Guinea tomorrow (11 Nov.) at Kings Park.
The match promises an interesting contrast of styles with Papua New Guinea likely to throw the ball around with abandon and attack from every part of the pitch while slow and steady will win the race for Hong Kong who will emphasise their structured game and hope to assert superiority in the set piece.
Jones has included five potential new caps in the squad as he looks to match twin objectives of winning and blooding new players.
“If you look at the opposition by seedings this is the obvious game to blood a couple of youngsters and take a few risks as it were,” said Jones. “That shows in the selection with Calvin Hunter, Will Eversfield and young Jason Jeyam and JW Markley on the bench. That mix of experience and youth will be very important going into this week.”
The squad will be led by fullback Ed Rolston for the first time after an earlier captaincy opportunity in Japan was derailed by a pre-match injury. Previously Rolston captained the Hong Kong U20s before playing for Leicester in the top flight of English rugby.
The script could not have been written much better for the actor turned rugby professional: “I’m excited. There are a lot of senior players in the mix so anytime I need advice I have guys around me to turn to.
“I was surprised that this opportunity came a bit early, but I am happy to fill that role if that is what the coaches and players want. It’s a huge honour to lead the boys and I hope they feel that confidence in me as well. I’m going to play my game, but I’m also going to try and lead from the front a bit.
“Even with five new caps we still have an experienced and competitive side. We are not taking them for granted and we’re not leaving anything to chance. They want to run from everywhere and I think our strength is in the set piece game or putting in some structure, but we will look to play as well. We have an exiting young side and I think we will look to throw it around a bit,” said Rolston.
A trio of forwards will definitely earn first caps barring pre-match injuries with flanker Mat Lamont and locks Calvin Hunter and Will Eversfield earning starts. The Hong Kong born Eversfield, who played for England U20s, will partner Hunter in the second row on their debut.
Some battle hardened veterans will support the tyros in the pack with Ben Higgins, Jamie Tsang and Rohan Cook anchoring the front row while Matt Lamming and vice captain Dan Falvey shore up the back row. Rolston will captain the team from his familiar spot at fullback with Yiu Kam-shing and Charles Higson-Smith on the wings. The halfback pairings include Cado Lee Ka-to and Matthew Rosslee, who earns his second cap at flyhalf after making his debut in Kenya.
Jones credited the Premiership sides for working closely with his performance coaches to help prepare Hong Kong for the tests ahead.
“The clubs deserve a lot of credit. In Rosslee’s case, Valley has been playing him a lot at 10, which has allowed him to get more comfortable in the position. As a converted centre he is strong defensively and as he continues to get more accustomed at ten he will offer us more options,” said Jones.
The hard-tackling duo of Lex Kaleca and Tyler Spitz anchor the centres as coach Jones hopes to shut down any dangerous counter-attacking play by Papua New Guinea with a stifling defence.
“Negating their flair will be a key. PNG want to play some wide open rugby. It will be important for us that we play a structured game where we starve them of possession and turn our own possession into points where we can on the field,” Jones said.
A five-three forwards to backs split on the bench sees Adam Fullgrabe and Alex Ng Wai-shing backing up the front row with the versatile Adrian Griffiths able to provide second and back row support. JW Markley, another former U20s cap is in line to make his debut off the bench.
Scrumhalf Jason Jeyam, fresh off an impactful debut for Hong Kong’s senior sevens side in Colombo, has also been included on the bench alongside standout performer Ben Rimene. Centre Ally Maclay gets his first Hong Kong selection since his return from the United Kingdom last season.
“Jason Jeyam has really jumped out this year,” said Jones. “I have worked with a lot of scrumhalves in my time and I think he is as good as any I have ever worked with; he has some real good potential and we are fortunate he has decided to return to throw his lot in with us.
“We are starting to develop some good depth in some key positions, particularly at scrumhalf, with Jason and Cado, Jamie Hood and even young Marky Coebergh who wasn’t selected for the Cup of Nations squad, but who has a big future in Hong Kong. It will be important for these guys to keep butting heads as we build a competitive high performance environment.”
Jones is following a horses for courses strategy as he selects tailored squads to negate the strengths of Hong Kong’s opponents, but he is also hoping that the players will make his decisions more difficult.
“It’s a 23-man game now. Getting three big efforts from the same group of guys in a condensed timeframe is challenging for all of the teams. We need to be smart in our selection to keep guys as fresh as they can be for the big one versus Russia, but we also need to make sure we have a 100% win record by that point. It is a challenge but that is the challenge that comes with performance rugby.
“I have a pretty clear selection route from game to game, what I want the guys to do is to change my thinking by putting their hands up in the tests and throwing a positive spanner in the works so to speak,” Jones concluded.
Hong Kong will play Papua New Guinea at Kings Park on Friday evening, (11 Nov.) with kick-off at 19.00. The match is preceded by the Russia v Zimbabwe game at 17.00. Admission is free for Cup of Nations 2016