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Home > News > Hunt for IRB World Cup Qualifier sport heats up in Asia
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Your News Hunt for IRB World Cup Qualifier sport heats up in Asia
06
MAY

Week three of the HSBC Asian 5 Nations (HSBC A5N) Top 5 competition is fraught with IRB Rugby World Cup 2011 implications (the 2010 HSBC A5N Top 5 competition is serving as the last competition in a three-year, 33-match Rugby World Cup qualification process for Asia). Table leaders Hong Kong host Kazakhstan at the Hong Kong Football Club while the Arabian Gulf, fresh from a historic first ever Top 5 win last week, sees its vaunted defence severely tested against reigning champions Japan in Tokyo.

Japan coach John Kirwan has made nine changes to the team that started its HSBC Asian Five Nations campaign last week with a 71-13 win over South Korea. Ahead of Japan’s home opener and the first HSBC A5N match to be held at the legendary Prince Chichibu Memorial Stadium, Kirwan has made four changes in the pack and five in the backs for Saturday’s clash with the Arabian Gulf.

“We want to give everyone an opportunity,” said Kirwan. “But we have to balance not putting the World Cup at risk.”

While centre Ryo Kanzawa is the only new cap in the starting XV, eleven of the 22-man squad have just 12 caps between them. Replacement halfbacks Koji Wada and Ryohei Yamanaka are in line to win their first caps, while flanker Sione Vatuvei, wing Yasunori Nagatomo and hooker Hiroki Yuhara will be winning their second caps.

Yuhara marked his debut with a try off the bench last week and is part of a very inexperienced front row unit. New tighthead prop Shinsuke Nakamura has played just twice for Japan, while replacement prop Nozumu Fujita made his debut last week. Reserve hooker Takeshi Kizu won his only cap in November when he came off the bench against Canada.

Three of the changes are straight swaps with lock Luke Thompson coming off the bench for Hitoshi Ono, flanker Masakazu Toyota replacing Touetsu Taufa and centre Alisi Tupuailei taking over from Ryan Nicholas. Tomoki Yoshida and James Arlidge form a new halfback partnership, while Kaoru Matushita lines up for his third cap at fullback.

The Arabian Gulf will look to counter Japan’s pace out wide by relying upon its pack to disrupt Japan’s inexperienced front row and secure possession for the darting runs of scrumhalf Jonny MacDonald and the accurate kicking of flyhalf James Love. After a mammoth defensive effort last weekend to hold Hong Kong to just three penalties in a 16-9 win, the Gulf will find its team defense sorely tested again this weekend by a Japan outfit that scored 11 tries last weekend alone.

While Japan are clear favourites to take Asia’s sole direct spot at the Rugby World Cup 2011 by winning the A5N outright, the chase for the runners-up spot is frenetic at the mid-point of the championship. Hong Kong lead the peloton with 7 points from its won one, lost one record including two bonus points. The Arabian Gulf picked up five points for its win in the desert last week while Kazakhstan are on 6 points with a game in hand on both of their opponents. Korea is on a bye week before its make or break match against the Arabian Gulf in Dubai on May 14.

With everything at stake, the tie between Hong Kong and Kazakhstan will go a long way to framing the runners-up picture for the weeks to come. Hong Kong has packed its squad with forwards as they face a physical challenge from Kazakhstan in a must-win game for both teams at the HSBC Asian Five Nations Top Five competition on Saturday.

Expecting a fully-fledged forwards battle Hong Kong National Coach Dai Rees has picked five forwards on the bench in a bid to blunt the opponent’s feared pack that played a huge role in finishing runners-up to Japan last year.

“I have a 5-2 split favouring forwards on the bench. This is our third game in a fortnight and there will be a lot of tired bodies out there. We had to make sure we had energy on the bench,” Rees said.

Tighthead prop Nigel Hobler will play his first game this season returning from a calf injury he picked up before Hong Kong’s first game against South Korea. He will pack down with Pete Spizzirri and hooker Jon Abel. The only other change to the starting lineup which fronted up against the Arabian Gulf in Bahrain last week is at fullback where Colin Bisley returns, replacing Alex McQueen who moves to the left wing relegating his brother Tom to the bench.

“Both Nigel and Colin will bring loads of experience and balance to the team,” said Rees who will be hoping the presence of this duo will shore up the front row as well as strengthen the defence out wide.

Hong Kong will boast two new faces on the bench – second-rower James Stokes and breakaway Rory Hussey – and they will be expected to play a huge role in winning their first caps.

“By halftime there will be a lot of fatigued bodies, especially in the forwards, and this is why we have strengthened the bench with emphasis on the forwards,” Rees said.

He is fully aware the threat that Kazakhstan’s dangerous back-row anchor and captain No. 8 Timur Mashurov will bring, but Mashurov’s wrecking crew partner flanker Anton Rudoy has not made the trip to Hong Kong due to club commitments in Russia. After scoring a hat trick of tries in the opener against the Arabian Gulf in Almaty two weeks ago, Hong Kong can consider themselves fortunate to not have to stop another Rudoy rampage on Saturday.

Hong Kong will need to withstand the punishment that the Kazakhstan pack will bring and will have its hands full with Mashurov and the loping Ilya Poplavskiy while hoping not to concede goal-kicking opportunities to fulback Maxim Lifontov if they are to win. With his massive boot, Lifontov will look to convert any penalty opportunities from as far as 55m out.

Victory is a must for Hong Kong, especially after last week’s shock 16-9 defeat at the hands of the Arabian Gulf. A second successive loss on Saturday will rule out Hong Kong’s hopes of at least clinching second place in the Top Five competition.

With a convincing win over Hong Kong in last year’s Top 5 and after surviving an opening scare this year, Kazakhstan will be brimming with confidence. They began the campaign with a 43-28 win over the Arabian Gulf in Almaty a fortnight ago after pulling away in the final moments and are fresh having had a bye last week.

“Our goal is to finish in second place and at all costs not to finish worst than last season. If we finish in second place, we still have a chance of making it to the World Cup,” said Kazakhstan coach Valeriy Popov.

As title sponsor of the Asian 5 Nations (A5N), HSBC is committed to the development of the game throughout Asia. HSBC aims to bring positive social change to different cultures and communities through its diverse rugby sponsorships across the world. HSBC Rugby invests in over 30 different countries from the very pinnacle of the elite game through to the development of emerging rugby countries through the Asian 5 Nations. Each of HSBC’s rugby sponsorships share one common aim of uniting people and cultures through the positive values of rugby union.

HSBC is also a long-term sponsor of the Penguins International Rugby Club, which is represented by 30 nations and has provided coaching sessions to local communities in 62 countries. In partnership with ARFU and the HSBC Penguins Coaching Academy, HSBC supported a series of rugby coaching clinics throughout Hong Kong in the lead up to the A5N tournament. The commitment to grassroots development is continuing throughout the duration of the HSBC A5N with Youth Rugby Festivals reaching thousands of youth in Singapore, Japan, Hong Kong, Korea, Dubai, Bahrain, Indonesia, India, Laos, Cambodia and Nepal in the next few months.

Led by former Scotland head coach Frank Hadden, the clinics will be supported by a team of HSBC Penguins and HSBC A5N coaches as well as team stars from several Asian nations. To date, the youth festivals have been held in Hong Kong, Dubai, Macau, Singapore, Korea and Nepal. This weekend, the HSBC A5N Youth Rugby Festivals return to Hong Kong for the Hong Kong v Kazakhstan match before heading off to Dubai for some desert rugby ahead of the Arabian Gulf v Korea match. 50 kids from the Hong Kong Society for the Community will be introduced to the game ahead of the match, while a mini rugby tournament for U11s will also share the curtain-raiser honours.

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