Poignant moment as championship opens

Alvin Sallay alvin.sallay@scmp.com

It will be a poignant moment when Jack Capon leads Hong Kong out for their opening game against Thailand in the under-20 Asian championship at Hong Kong Football Club this evening.

Skipper and No8 Capon, and at least nine other players in the squad, were part of the team who took part in last year’s tournament in Bangkok, where tragedy struck Hong Kong flyhalf Ben Kende, who was left paralysed after an accident on the field. Kende is now undergoing rehabilitation in Australia and will be thinking of his teammates.

His teammates will be thinking of him, too. ‘Ben would still have been eligible to play for this squad. Ben has many close friends on this team and I’m sure they will be thinking of him. The entire Hong Kong rugby community’s thoughts are still with Ben,’ said Hong Kong head of performance Dai Rees.

Fuelled by this raw emotion, Hong Kong will go in search of victory as they begin their attempt to book the solitary berth available for Asia at next year’s IRB Junior World Trophy, a task made harder by the presence of Japan in a four-team competition that also includes Sri Lanka.

Japan lost to Samoa in the final of the second-tier JWT earlier this month, a result which saw them fail to qualify for the IRB Junior World Championship next season. The Japanese now have to start over again, making it difficult for the rest of Asia to claim the one slot available.

Capon will captain the team once again having spent the last 10 months developing his rugby skills at university in Wales. He will lead an experienced pack which includes two players – hooker Carl Rojens and prop Hong Pak-to – who won full caps against Norway last December.

In the second row, the towering Adam Butterfield and Alex Huet, will offer plenty of know-how in the round-robin competition.

‘The forwards can lay a good platform for our young backs, many of which will play in their first championships,’ said Hong Kong head coach Joe Shaw. ‘Josh Peters and Geoff Bland are players to watch from our under-18 team while Russell Webb is an 18-year-old flyhalf who has the skills and attitude to perform at the top level in the coming years.’

Shaw added: ‘We expect the teams to be very physical. Thailand and Japan both play an expansive game while Sri Lanka should be very strong from the evidence shown in a schoolboys match I watched prior to our senior Asian Five Nations game.’

Japan take on Sri Lanka in the opening game tonight.

Hong Kong squad

Isaac Barnes, Geoff Bland, Adam Butterfield, Jack Capon (captain), David Francis, Hunter Frisinger, Michael Harman, Ben Higgins, Tom Holden, Hong Pak-to, Alex Huet, Lee Jun-sing, Leung King-on, Richard Lindsay, Kohei Mitsuhashi, Josh Owens, Josh Peters, Carl Rojens, Clement Tu Siu-him, Tom Watts, Russell Webb, Wong Kit-leung, Leon Woodward, Mark Woodward.