Hong Kong will play a training match against the Greater Bay Area’s first professional rugby club, the FWD South China Tigers, at 1500 at Aberdeen Sports Ground this Saturday. The match is a build-up for Hong Kong’s participation in the Asia Rugby championships later this month against South Korea and Malaysia.

Primarily drawn from the ranks of the Hong Kong team and players from the local Premiership, the South China Tigers feature a raft of current and future national team talent.

The competition for spots is rising now from club to country level with several South China Tigers stars becoming eligible to play for Hong Kong this year. In all, 32 of the Tigers are in action on Saturday, with 19 running out for the Hong Kong team.

Given the significant exodus to the national colours on Saturday, it will be up to Tigers mainstays like Josh Dowsing, (who will captain the side against Hong Kong), Luke van der Smit, Tau Koloamatangi and Glyn Hughes, all of whom are Hong Kong eligible by 2020, to lead the charge for China’s first pro rugby club on their home turf at Aberdeen.

Hong Kong has even snaffled prop Faizai Solomona , who will be eligible to play for the national XV within the ARC campaign, to get a look at the HK Scottish forward as he packs down against familiar domestic rivals Dan Barlow, Mitch Andrews, Keelan Chapman and Koloamatangi.

The South China Tigers were, however, spared the services of two current internationals in the club’s China team stars Ma Chong and Liu Jun-kui, with Ma starting on the wing, and will be further reinforced with a variety of emerging Hong Kong players like Sam Tsoi.

Hong Kong will open its defence of the Asian title in South Korea on 8 June, host Malaysia on 15 June, travel to Kuala Lumpur for the return leg on 22 June and close out against Korea at home on 29 June.

South Korea opened its campaign with an eight-try thumping of Malaysia in Incheon last weekend, 52-14, a result that was largely as expected according to Tigers manager and Hong Kong coach Andrew Hall.

“Pretty much as expected, it was a bit scrappy as it was the first game for both of them. But both teams will get better and we know that, which is one of the reasons we are not getting carried away with that result. There were a lot of new faces out there for both sides, along with a lot of familiar ones, but we are very aware of both their qualities and the threats they pose.”

Hall believes that the Global Rapid Rugby experience has had a positive knock-on effect on Hong Kong’s preparations, not least in helping to put the experience of the Rugby World Cup Repechage out of mind.

“We are certainly coming in with a lot more rugby in the bank than ever before at this time of the year, and more high level rugby in the bank against some very tough opposition.”

With Japan hosting the Rugby World Cup and Hong Kong falling at the final hurdle of the 2019 repechage, Hall dispelled the notion that there was nothing riding on this year’s Asian championship.

“There has been a lot of talk about this, you know, ‘nothing on it this year’, ‘it doesn’t matter’, well to the players it matters. We asked them from day one, what do you want to do? They said, ‘we want to win again, back to back’. That has been the phrase this year, back to back. A lot of hard work has to go in to achieve that, but no one is shying away from the fact that if we get things right, we should be in the position to do that,” Hall said.

The campaign marks Hong Kong’ first action since the repechage last November, an experience the team is ready to move on from.

“We have put that behind us and GRR helped a lot with that. Don’t get me wrong, it has been really tough to get over that repechage hangover, but having GRR really helped us change focus and keep things busy, rather than facing a six-month build-up before our next internationals and dwelling on things.

“These internationals are a chance to really bury that now, and a good opportunity to put a marker in the sand,” Hall added.

Emerging Hong Kong players Harry Sayers and Paul Altier are included in the starting fifteen for the South China Tigers clash, with Sayers having won his first sevens cap earlier this spring in Singapore while U20s captain Paul Altier looks to press his claim for a first cap in the ARC.

The first obstacle to planting that marker will be a motivated Tigers outfit with numerous players both currently eligible for Hong Kong, including Grant Kemp, Robbie Keith and Jamie Lauder, and half a dozen more who will be eligible by the end of 2019. Given the training nature of the match, it is likely that some players will switch sides at half time on Saturday with the focus on prepping Hong Kong.

“The Tigers season is finished, but these guys are still fundamental in the preparation for Hong Kong. They take the lead now for us in looking at how Korea and Malaysia play, and effectively becoming those teams in training. It’s a nice position for us to be in and it’s also tough for them, and we understand that, but their contribution is paramount to any success we might have,” Hall added.

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