NAIROBI, Kenya, Aug 25- Hong Kong Rugby Union national coach Leigh Jones has maintained the same squad that played against Kenya in the first test match last week, making only two positional changes ahead of the second game on Saturday.
Sam Purvis, who earned his first cap last week, moves to the centres to cover for Tyler Spitz, who injured his hamstring in the first test. Purvis’ move inside opens space for Robbie Keith to start on the right wing.
Hong Kong is hopeful of getting a win against the Simbas and the tactician is optimistic they will put up a better show.
“We put in a very brave and courageous performance last week, particularly as we were coming into our first test off the back of our summer break,” said Jones.
“Full credit to the guys. It’s a good group to work with and there’s a lot of camaraderie in the squad. This group has worked hard together and has really bonded. I think it’s only fair that we reward that.”
“We put in a real good first 25 minutes of rugby and perhaps could have gone 25 or 28 points up but the game turned on Tyler’s injury. We lost our cutting edge speed and that helped Kenya come back into it. It’s natural that we ran out of steam a bit, as we are not yet battle hardened.
“At the end of the game we did well to hang on for the draw. We did that thanks to the courage of the guys,” Jones said.
“That is what this tour is about, getting these players battle hardened and exposing them to this level. From a physicality perspective, I expect that we will be 20% better this weekend because the guys will be battle hardened. With a game under our belts, we’ll just get better now.”
Jones’ main changes come in the reserves with Mike Parfitt, Tony Wong and potential first caps James Christie and Evi Saua all coming on to the bench, alongside front-rowers Dayne Jans, Dan Barlow and Alex Ng Wai-shing, who earned his 50th cap in the opening test.
Jones will start an unchanged forward pack, with the back-row of Nick Hewson and Matt Lamming on the flanks and Thomas Lamboley at No.8 once again crucial for Hong Kong’s hopes of keeping the Kenyan attack in check.
A stiffer challenge is expected after the hosts made 13 changes to their squad.
“They’ve strengthened their squad significantly. They tried a lot of bench guys in game one, which kind of backfired. This team looks more like the one that played Namibia in the Africa Cup. They’ve brought in their captain and several other players and there’s a message in there, I think,” Jones said.
The performance of the pack will again be a decisive issue: “Our set piece has got to hold up. Our backs can take advantage given enough ball, so our teamwork has got to come to the fore in terms of working together to get a result.
“With Kenya bringing the cavalry in, we will have to work a lot harder to get our points. We feel they will be 20% better as well; so that’s where we are. This is great exposure and a good test for the guys to show them what international rugby is all about,” concluded Jones.
Hong Kong squad
- Ben HIGGINS (Valley), 2. Jamie TSANG (Kowloon), 3. Jack PARFITT (Hong Kong Scottish), 4. Kyle SULLIVAN (HKS), 5. James CUNNINGHAM (Kowloon), 6. Nick HEWSON (captain, Valley), 7. Matt LAMMING (HKCC), 8. Thomas LAMBOLEY (Valley), 9. Liam SLATEM (HKCC), 10. Matthew ROSSLEE (Valley), 11. Marcus RAMAGE (HKS), 12. Lex KALECA (HKS), 13. Sam PURVIS (Tigers), 14. Robbie KEITH (Tigers), 15. Liam GALLAHER (Tigers).
Reserves: 16. Dayne JANS (Valley), 17. Dan BARLOW (HKFC), 18. Alex NG Wai-shing (Valley), 19. Fin FIELD (Edinburgh Uni.), 20. Tony WONG (Valley), 21. James CHRISTIE (Northumbria Uni.), 22. Evi SAUA (HKS).