Hong Kong will take on the United Arab Emirates in the final round of the HSBC Asian 5 Nations Top 5 on Saturday in the knowledge that whoever wins will claim the coveted runners-up spot for the first time.
With perennial Asian champions Japan having already clinched the title for the fourth consecutive year, the Hong Kong Football Club will host the battle for second place and boasting rights as the region’s best amateur side in Asia.
Both sides desperately want the spot, although Hong Kong coach Dai Rees is trying to not let his players get carried away with talk of second place.
“We are not thinking of the outcome right now,” insists Rees. “All we are focused on is a good performance. If we do that, the results will follow.”
But there is no escaping the fact that a win will be a moment to savour for Hong Kong, who currently occupy second spot in the standings with 11 points, three more than UAE. However, with five points available for the win, there is still all to play for.
UAE coach Bruce Birtwistle has included four Emiratis in his squad – Cyrus Homayoun, Ali Mohammed, Abdullah Ahmed and Mohanned Shaker – as they attempt to finish a season which has seen them emerge a surprise package with victory over Kazakhstan and a 13-13 draw in Sri Lanka.
They also have the added motivation of bouncing back from the 110-0 defeat at the hands of Japan last week with the United Arab Emirates Rugby Association CEO Ian Bremner admitting: “We are looking for a big away win to finish off the season on a high. The guys are charged up after last week’s performance.
A sentiment echoed by captain Mike Cox-Hill: “Japan were relentless. They are the number 12 or 13 side in the world and are a fully professional team in a Rugby World Cup year, so we need to put that game behind us. All of our focus is on Hong Kong, we are two evenly matched teams.
“We have been the surprise package in this year’s HSBC A5N to date. Finishing second in Asia would be a massive achievement for a Union like the UAE that is just months old. We have some lofty goals for rugby in the region and that kind of placing would help us achieve those ambitions.”
Victory will hinge on whose forward pack can exert dominance. The UAE pack has provided the base for their surprising run at second place in their debut year. Hong Kong, though, will welcome the return of untiring second row Oliver Jones, who missed the last two matches with injury.
Perfect end to season
However, first choice wings Rowan Varty and Salom Yiu Kam-shing will be missing due to injuries picked up in the 48-3 win over Sri Lanka in Colombo a fortnight ago, their places taken by Alex McQueen and Adam Raby.
“We need to focus on a couple of key areas in our defensive shape along with producing quality ball at set piece and contact area to allow our key runners to pressurise UAE," added Rees.
“A win on Saturday will complete a good 2010/11 season which started back in November. The team has worked hard to increase the skill levels and intensity in all aspects of the game. If the players maintain this focus, the result will look after itself.”
In a curtain raiser to the A5N battle for second place at the Hong Kong Football Club, the Hong Kong women’s team will face Singapore in a one-off match, kicking off at 13:00 local time.
The weekend’s other Top 5 match sees Japan, who secured a fourth successive title with the 111-0 defeat of UAE, looking to finish on a high and record a 16th consecutive A5N bonus point win against relegation bound Sri Lanka in Colombo.
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