Dai Rees has challenged his Hong Kong players to bring the Emirates Airline Cup of Nations silverware home “as an early Christmas present” as they prepare to face tournament hosts the United Arab Emirates at 7he Sevens in Dubai on Saturday.
Welshman Rees, the HKRFU’s Head of Performance and Coaching, is under no illusions as to the importance of the tournament featuring four teams from three continents which is a joint initiative of the HKRFU and the UAE Rugby Association.
Hong Kong will step into somewhat unchartered territory in the inaugural Cup of Nations, having never faced Brazil or Kenya on the international Fifteens stage and only met UAE once, running out convincing 62-3 winners in the HSBC Asian 5 Nations earlier this year.
That, though, is part of the appeal for Rees as he seeks to give his players experience of playing against different styles of play to that which they traditionally face each year in the Asian 5 Nations against the likes of Japan and Kazakhstan.
“All the players and management are very excited about the prospects of playing two new international teams in Brazil and Kenya,” admitted Rees. “It will be a great opportunity for the players to get exposure to good level Test rugby.
“It will help the players gauge where they are in terms of skills and tactical understanding of the game at international level, and more importantly continue our development with the focus on the preparation for the 2012 HSBC Asian 5 Nations.
“We have set the goal of winning all three matches and bringing the inaugural Cup of Nations back home as an early Christmas present.”
Hong Kong have named three uncapped players in their starting XV in scrum half Cado Lee, prop Stephen Nolan and second row Daniel Watson, while another four could make their debuts off the bench against the UAE.
The UAE, who made their debut in the Asian 5 Nations earlier this year after taking the place of the Arabian Gulf following an exciting restructure in the West Asia region, have 11 newcomers in their squad to face Hong Kong.
They have lost the services of Murray Strang and Tim Fletcher following injuries sustained at last weekend’s Emirates Airline Dubai Rugby Sevens, the second round of the HSBC Sevens World Series, but have crowd favourite Emad Reyal coming in at fly half.
Before Hong Kong and UAE take to the pitch though, Brazil and Kenya have the honour of kicking off a tournament intended to provide valuable competition for some of the up and coming nations.
“We are very pleased with the level of commitment this tournament has received from our governing unions (ARFU and IRB), by the participating nations of Brazil, Kenya and Hong Kong, and by the tournament sponsor Emirates Airline,” said UAE Rugby Chairman Mohammed Falaknaz.
“We are exceptionally proud that the games will be broadcast live to all these nations, including the wider Asian, African and Pan-Arab rugby-loving audience.”
Emirates Airlines Cup of Nations schedule
13:00 – Brazil v Kenya
15:00 – Hong Kong v UAE
18:00 – Hong Kong v Kenya
20:00 – UAE v Brazil
15:00 – UAE v Kenya
17:00 – Hong Kong v Brazil
Kick-offs local time