New era for Hong Kong as they begin Asia Rugby title defence

June 7, 2019

Photo credit: Hong Kong Rugby Union 


Hong Kong rugby starts a new chapter as the title defence of the Asia Rugby Championships kicks off against South Korea on Saturday (15:00 HKT) in Incheon.


Having reached the final four of Rugby World Cup 2019 qualification, Hong Kong begins its march to 2023 under new coach Andrew Hall with its first test match since November.


Hall retained just nine from the squad that played the same tie last year, reflecting retirements and the omission of most of the Sevens squad as they prepare for an Asian series and Olympic qualifiers in late 2019.


Three players will make debuts in Korea: flanker Callum McCullough, fullback Paul Altier and winger Harry Sayers. Sayers and McCullough are both Hong Kong-born, returning last year from the UK and New Zealand respectively to press their international claims.


Opportunities stemming from the transition have been presented to all three, with Hall keen on rewarding form and proactiveness.


Photo credit: South China Morning Post  


In particular,. 25-year old McCullough earns his first cap as “reward for some really good club form this season and some hard work in his ERP trial,” said Hall, before noting that McCullough’s height will provide added pressure to the Korean lineout.


Forwards Grant Kemp and Craig Lodge, along with backs Ben Axten-Burrett, Lewis Warner, and Bryn Phillips, will get their first taste of Asian international competition.


Hall reflected on selecting his first squad and the start of a new cycle.


“There are all sorts of emotions. I have had great support from the coaching team and the last say on this selection, which is exciting.”


“There is a lot of anticipation - from me, the coaches and the players - to get back to the international game. This is our first opportunity since the repechage; we have put that result behind us mentally and it will be good now in an international to really bury that."


Photo credit: Hong Kong Rugby Union  


Early momentum is in Korea’s favour after their drubbing of Malaysia, on top a week’s rest before facing Hong Kong.


Should they defend home turf, Hong Kong can’t afford miscues over the coming month.


“They are coming into it with two games and two wins under their belts. They are comfortable in their combinations and patterns, so we are going to have to disrupt that and ensure they don’t get into their stride.”


“If we win the momentum battle, that will win the game. Winning this game is key to winning the competition. Winning that momentum battle on Saturday could also give us the momentum we need to defend our title.”




Hong Kong Squad v South Korea (Incheon, 8 June): 1. Ben HIGGINS, 2. Alex POST, 3. Grant KEMP, 4. Fin Field, 56. Kyle SULLIVAN, 6. James Cunningham, 7. Callum MCCULLOUGH, 8. Kane BOUCAUT, 9. Liam SLATEM ©, 10. Jack NEVILLE, 11. Conor HARTLEY, 12. Matt ROSSLEE, 13. Ben AXTEN-BURRETT, 14. Harry SAYERS, 15. Paul ALTIER, 16. Dayne JANS, 17. Dan BARLOW, 18. Jack PARFITT, 19. Craig LODGE, 20. Cris PIERREPOINT, 21. Bryn PHILLIPS, 22. Lewis WARNER, 23, Rob KEITH



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