The Hong Kong Rugby Union have announced the 30-man squad for the upcoming Rugby World Cup 2019 repechage tournament in Marseille, France. The winner of the four-team, round-robin tournament with Canada, Germany and Kenya will advance as the 20th and final team at the Rugby World Cup in 2019.
Following split decisions with Dragons Development and Crawshays in a warm-up camp in Wales, coach Leigh Jones and the selection panel have winnowed the 35-man travel party into the final 30-man squad for the repechage. Hong Kong opens a historic bid to qualify for a first Rugby World Cup against Germany on 11 November, before facing Kenya (17 Nov.), and front-runners Canada, who have qualified for every Rugby World Cup to date, (23 Nov.).
“Selection was tough and there are some disappointed players not to make the final 30,” said Dai Rees, Chief Rugby Operations Officer at the HKRU, who is with the team in Marseille.
“But our preparations have gone really well and everyone was fit for selection. We’re in a good space. We’ve already had two good training runs on the ground and the other teams are just arriving today.
“This is the most prepared international squad we have ever produced and we couldn’t be going into a tournament off of a better footing, but it’s still going to be tough,” Rees added.
Coach Leigh Jones agreed with Rees’ assessment of the preparations, saying, “I think we are as good as we can be. We have worked hard. The players, management group, the coaches and the medical and S&C team all deserve credit for that.
“But the reality is that we are stepping into the unknown now. We know very little about Germany, about Canada. They are preparing as hard as we are I’m sure, but behind closed doors, so that’s a bit frustrating.
“In other competitions, you generally know what you are getting, but it has been pretty much a closed shop for everyone this time. We have kept our stuff tight like all of them, so no one knows what to expect really, but the boys are ready to go.
“We are as good as we can be. It is just that unknown factor about what the other teams and coaches are going to bring to the table,” Jones said.
Familiar faces line the squad with players from the HKRU Elite Rugby Programme constituting the majority of the group, rounded out by some of Hong Kong’s sevens specialists in residence at the Hong Kong Sports Institute.
Lock Jamie Cunningham will captain a group full of leaders in Marseille with former captains Ben Roberts (hooker), Ben Rimene (sevens captain, fly-half), Jamie Hood (sevens captain, utility back), and Hong Kong’s most capped international Nick Hewson (former 15s and sevens captain) all included in the 30.
Salom Yiu Kam-shing, Hong Kong’s second most capped player, will resume his familiar spot on the wing with physical threat Conor Hartley and speedster Max Denmark also expected to be regulars out wide. In-form fullback Casey Stone, one of five potential first caps included in the repechage squad, looks to have an inside track on the 15 jersey after scoring three tries in two matches in Wales, with Jamie Hood able to provide cover at the position as well.
Tyler Spitz, Max Woodward, Lewis Warner, Ben Axten-Burrett are all contesting the centre jerseys while Rimene and Matthew Rosslee are expected to feature at outside half. A tight contest for the number nine jersey sees Liam Slatem and newcomer Bryn Phillips included in the final squad, with Hood also able to back up at both inside and outside half.
Ben Roberts, Dayne Jans and youngster Alexander Post have all been named at hooker while Ben Higgins, Jack Parfitt, Dylan Rogers, Dan Barlow and another new cap, Grant Kemp, being named at prop. Cunningham and Delaforce will be joined by Finlay Field and Mike Parfitt at lock while the backrow features Thomas Lamboley and Kane Boucaut at No.8, with Hewson, Toby Fenn, Michael Coverdale and Mike Parfitt all vying for game time at flanker.
Jones knows that preparation must translate to execution starting against Germany: “This group of players are fitter, stronger, and better prepared, than we’ve ever been. We just have to transfer two and a half years of training onto the pitch over three matches and the dream can be achieved,” he said.
Hong Kong squad (30-man) for World Rugby RWC 2019 Repechage (November 11-23, Marseille)
FORWARDS: Dan BARLOW, Dayne JANS, Grant KEMP, James CUNNINGHAM ©, Jack DELAFORCE, Kane BOUCAUT, Mike COVERDALE, Thomas LAMBOLEY, Nick HEWSON, Jack PARFITT, Mike PARFITT, Alexander POST, Ben ROBERTS, Dylan ROGERS, Ben HIGGINS, Finn FIELD, Toby FENN. BACKS: Ben RIMENE, Bryn PHILLIPS, Matt ROSSLEE, Conor HARTLEY, Ben AXTEN-BURRETT, Tyler SPITZ, Salom YIU Kam-shing, Casey STONE, Jamie HOOD, Lewis WARNER, Max WOODWARD, Max DENMARK, Liam SLATEM.