NINE NEW CAPS IN HONG KONG SQUAD FOR BELGIUM
All nine potential new caps in Hong Kong’s 30-man touring squad are in line to debut against Belgium tomorrow, 16 November, (22.00 Hong Kong time).
The selectors have opted for a big line-up against the hosts with six debuts in the forward pack for Hong Kong, including props Tau Koloamatangi and Thomas Bristow, lock Mark Prior, and an all-new back row of Lawrence Miller and James Sawyer at flanker and Josh Dowsing at No.8.
Fullback Nathan De Thierry joins the starting XV, completing the trifecta of players arriving in Hong Kong via the development partnership with Super Rugby’s Gallagher Chiefs’ in 2015, alongside Dowsing and Koloamatangi. Hooker Jamie Tsang and towering lock Craig Lodge round out the pack, with captain Liam Slatem at scrumhalf pairing with ‘mercurial’ fly half Gregor McNeish, also set to debut. Recent cap Harry Sayers joins Marcus Ramage, in school at Cardiff University, with Ben Axten-Burrett and Lewis Warner in the centres. The ninth new cap in the squad, centre Guy Spanton, is on the reserves bench to start.
With size to hopefully match the opposition’s, Hong Kong could have an advantage if conditions play their part with the test to be played on artificial surface, which tends to add speed to matches and is frequently used in Hong Kong.
Hong Kong coach Andrew Hall is expecting a physical contest to open the tour, likening it to entering the lion’s den.
“Josh and Tau will help our direct approach as impact runners that can dent the gain line. James Sawyer is another guy like that, a player that can challenge defensive lines, as is Mark [Prior]. We are going into the lion’s den in terms of a physical challenge and Mark is robust and can deal with the attrition side of the game. He adds a bit of grunt and some steel.”
For their part Prior and Dowsing are ready for the challenge.
Dowsing a 24-year old from Taranaki, New Zealand was chomping at the bit ahead of the match saying, “It’s been a long-time coming for me, so I’m just really excited and honoured to have an opportunity to put the jersey on. I came here three years ago to play a bit of rugby for five months, and I fell in love with Hong Kong, I love the guys here and what’s it’s all about, so I’m excited to do my part.
“It’s an awesome challenge playing Belgium. I’m just hoping to bring some go-forward. That’s my goal really, to get the boys on the front foot as best as I can and help us get moving forward,” he added.
For Prior, the opportunity is as welcome as it is unexpected. The 24-year old South African financial professional came to the city initially to advance his financial career.
“I have been here three years working, but rugby is a passion for me, so playing at the highest level, playing international rugby, is a dream.
“Playing for Hong Kong wasn’t in my mind when I came here to build my financial career. I wanted to work and play some good rugby, and the city allows you to do that. But the guys have been awesome, the coaching staff has been hugely welcoming and understanding and I am just so grateful for the opportunity that Hong Kong has given me, that I can’t wait to get out there,” said Prior.
The imposing lock forward is under no illusions on his role and value to the squad.
“With my South African roots, you know, we like to play hard, physical rugby. In Europe, we will be playing some big boys, and I think I can help in that respect. They are big and physical and will try to scrum and maul us to death - we just have to front up. Where we battled in the World Cup repechage was just exactly that, up front and in the set piece, so we are preparing well for that,” he added.
Debutants Gregor McNeish and Nate De Thierry will help provide punch to a seasoned backline against Belgium, with Hall excited about McNeish’s debut.
“Gregor is mercurial for his club and understands the Northern Hemisphere game. As the World Cup showed, you need someone like that. You need to be able to control territory and he is accomplished at that. He also has that individuality and expressiveness that sometimes will absolutely have your heart in your mouth, but is exciting to watch and difficult to counter,” Hall said.
Hall is also keen to have a look at Ramage on his first test action since 2017: “Marcus is playing well for Cardiff uni at the moment and they are in a top-level competition. Physically, he has continued to develop and it will be good to see where his game is at.”
Belgium (27th) are ranked lower than Hong Kong (24th) but Hall expects a test of his side’s improvement since Marseille, saying, ““We are looking for players that can cope with what we encountered at the last repechage. If we get there again, we are going to have to knock over teams like this. On an artificial surface, hopefully we can throw it around a bit, but the question is can we cope with an arm wrestle? We don’t want one, as it’s not our preferred skillset, but can we do it?” concluded Hall.
Hong Kong have faced Belgium three times, losing the opener in 2012 in Dubai 24-12, but sweeping a series of home tests the following year, 28-17 and 18-15.
Hong Kong Squad v Belgium (November Tests v Belgium/Spain 2019):
1. Tom BRISTOW*
2. Jamie TSANG,
3. Tau KOLOAMATANGI*,
4. Mark PRIOR*,
5. Craig LODGE,
6. Lawrence MILLER*,
7. James SAWYER*,
8. Josh DOWSING*,
9. Liam SLATEM (Captain),
10. Gregor MCNEISH*,
11. Harry SAYERS,
12. Ben AXTEN-BURRETT,
13. Lewis WARNER,
14. Marcus RAMAGE,
15. Nathan DE THIERRY*,
16. Mitch ANDREWS,
17. Dan BARLOW,
18. Faizal SOLOMONA,
19. Kyle SULLIVAN,
20. Sam TSOI Kin-san,
21. Guy SPANTON*,
22. Paul ALTIER,
23. Bryn PHILLIPS
*Hong Kong debut
Information and Photo Source : Hong Kong Rugby Union