FWD SOUTH CHINA TIGERS NAME TEAM FOR FIRST HOME GAME VS. ASIA PACIFIC DRAGONS
The Greater Bay Area’s newest professional rugby club, the FWD South China Tigers, have announced the team for the club’s first ever Global Rapid Rugby home game against Singapore’s Asia Pacific Dragons on Easter Sunday at Aberdeen Sports Ground (3.10pm). Facing a physical test in the Dragons, a squad largely comprised of current and ex-internationals from the Pacific Islands, coach Craig Hammond and the Tigers have responded by bringing in their own heavyweights to defend home turf.
“They are big. The team, the subs, everyone; they are big fellas, which is a different challenge to what we normally play against. They have a lot international players with high-level footy experience, while we haven’t played against many Pacific Island teams, so that’s another challenge,” Hammond said.
A Dragons squad that featured 11 internationals, largely drawn from Fiji, Samoa and Tonga, with a sprinkling of Australian 7s players and ex-Super Rugby stars, lost 42-10 to Western Force in Perth in their season opener last Friday. The Tigers also dropped their opener to the Force, 45-22, leaving Sunday’s tie a must-win for Hammond’s side if they hope to stay in contention for the Asian Showcase Series crown and the AUD 50,000 prize purse on offer for the champions.
“It is a must win. Next week we go to Singapore where it will be tough to play the Dragons, and after that we have the Force at home, which is another huge test. So Sunday is both a massive challenge and an opportunity for us. In this competition, you have to win at home and this is a great opportunity for the Tigers brand and to get people behind us.”
The final three games of the regional showcase are in Asia with Tigers hosting Dragons before a return visit next week to Singapore. Rapid Rugby returns to Aberdeen on 12 May for the series finale versus the Force.
With a perfect 2-0 record and a clean haul of the double bonus points available in each match, the Force are comfortably on top of the table with 12 points, leaving the Tigers needing a sweep against the Dragons to stay in contention for the title ahead of the Force’s inaugural visit to Hong Kong next month.
Preparing for only their second outing in Global Rapid Rugby, the Tigers sights are set more narrowly on this weekend’s clash.
The squad sees five changes from the team that played the Force, including the addition of two-metre tall lock Craig Lodge and No.8 Luke van der Smit, a rangy 1.8-metre back rower from Western Province who spent time in the South Africa Sevens academy set-up, giving him the perfect combination of size and speed for Global Rapid Rugby. The Tigers also welcome the return of Hong Kong prop Ben Higgins in his first action since the Rugby World Cup repechage in November. The reserves feature a five to three forwards to backs split with co-captain James Cunningham (second/back row) starting on the bench.
Hammond noted that the inclusions are based on merit and not size, saying, “Physically they will be good out on the pitch, but they have all taken their opportunities well in training and deserve this opportunity.
Ben brings experience and a huge work rate. He plays like a flanker, he is a workhorse out there, and hopefully he brings that on Sunday.
“Luke is one of the form players from the Premiership and is a year out from being eligible to play for Hong Kong. Physically he is a beast and can help us get to the gain line, we will need that against these guys. He has only recently come into the squad, so he has a lot to adapt to in the style and intensity of Rapid Rugby, it will be a good challenge for him, but he has mixed it up well in training and deserves a crack.”
Scrumhalf and co-captain Liam Slatem will also get his first taste of Rapid Rugby after missing the opening match for the birth of his son and will pair with his compatriot and HKU Sandy Bay Premiership club-mate van der Smit at No.8. It is another reunion of sorts for the pair, who come from the same school in South Africa, with Slatem coaching van der Smit as a schoolboy at one point in their careers.
Hammond is fully aware of what Dragons are likely to present on Sunday: “Our challenge is to live with their physicality and at the same time do what we need to do. We pride ourselves on our work rate and our capacity for work and we have to make sure we can maintain that intensity for 70 minutes.”
Hammond, manager Andrew Hall and positional coach Brett Wilkinson have been working hard with the forwards to prepare for what looks to be a titanic battle on Easter Sunday. The Force’s pack gave the Tigers more than they bargained for and the scrum is expected again to be a key contest this weekend.
“They did more than just hold their own versus the Force in the scrum, so we must get our set piece right and that has been a massive focus for us this week. We need a good defensive effort and to stop them at the gain line. When they got behind the Force they were dangerous. We can’t let them get that go forward and offload game, or allow them to bring their big men get in the game.”
Ex-New Zealand U20s prop Tau Kolomatangi earns the start at loose head, paired with Hong Kong front rowers in hooker Alex Post and Higgins. Hong Kong lock Fin Field joins Lodge in the second row while van der Smit anchors the back row with fellow Premiership players Josh Dowsing and James Sawyer. Slatem will pair with Glyn Hughes who earns a second start at fly-half after top scoring for Tigers in the opening match with a try, a penalty, and a conversion in the opening half. The Hong Kong centre pairing of Matt Rosslee and Lewis Warner return for a second run in midfield with the club’s two marquee signings - Tom Varndell and Fiji gold medallist Samisoni Viriviri - posing plenty of threat on the wings; Nathan de Thierry earns his second start at full-back.
“We have tried to mimic our training to the intensity and the level and physicality the Dragons will bring.
Training has been a lot more tasty, a lot more physical, this week, and the guys have been up for it and are looking forward to Sunday. These are the kind of games we want, to prepare ourselves for going forward as a franchise,” Hammond concluded.
Easter Extravaganza sees two U12s enter free with every paid adult
Enjoy some family-friendly entertainment this Easter with stilt walkers, jugglers, balloon art and face painting adding to the rugby carnival in Aberdeen. Family packages see two kids 12 and under enter free on Sunday with one paying adult (general admission) while youth tickets (13-17) are just HK$100. Tickets are available from http://www.zoonga.com.au/globalrapidrugby.
FWD South China Tigers v Asia Pacific Dragons 21 April, Aberdeen
1. Ben HIGGINS, 2. Alex POST, 3. Tau KOLOMATANGI, 4. Fin FIELD, 5. Craig LODGE, 6. James SAWYER, 7. Josh DOWSING, 8. Luke VAN DER SMIT, 9. Liam SLATEM (co-captain), 10. Glyn HUGHES, 11. Tom VARNDELL, 12. Matt ROSSLEE, 13. Lewis WARNER, 14. Samisoni VIRIVIRI, 15. Nathan DE THIERRY. RESERVES: 16. Mitch ANDREWS, 17. Adam FULLGRABE, 18. Grant KEMP, 19. Kyle SULLVIAN, 20. James CUNNINGHAM (co-captain), 21. Jamie LAUDER, 22. Tom HILL, 23. MA Chong.