01 Jun 2018

The Hong Kong men’s national rugby team is on the brink of closing out its first Asian fifteens title with only South Korea standing in the way of claiming victory in this season’s Asia Rugby Championship.  The two will face off in the competition finale on Saturday at 16.00 at Hong Kong Football Club.

With Japan already qualified for Rugby World Cup 2019 this year’s tournament is serving double duty in identifying the region’s entry into the international repechage stages for next year’s world championship, which will be held for the first time in Asia in Japan.

South Korea trail Hong Kong by four points in the standings ahead of Saturday’s finale and face a nearly unassailable points differential. That has left Hong Kong in commanding position on the table, a fact that was sealed in last week’s crucial 91-10 win over Malaysia.

“The pressure is on Korea now to come and play, so that is the good thing. That is what last weekend was about,” said Hong Kong coach and HKRU General Manager of Rugby Performance Leigh Jones.

“Mathematically, we probably just need a bonus point to see us through, but that is not going to be enough. We want to go for a win and win confidently at home,” Jones added.

The players have bought into that goal as well notes Jones.

“The boys have been a pleasure to coach this week. We have had very little to do as coaches. It has all been very player-led. They are really chomping at the bit to get at Korea.”

While attrition is starting to make its presence felt at the end of a six-week campaign, Jones is confident that the depth Hong Kong has assembled in the last two seasons has them in good stead to close out the Asian campaign and to handle the latter stages of Rugby World Cup qualification.

“We have been trying to grow depth for two years for instances just like this. We do have some quality guys inured, but there are a some quality guys coming in to replace them.”

Indeed Jones has reverted to type after blooding four new caps against Malaysia, going back to the squad that anchored the crucial away wins in Malaysia and Korea earlier in the championship.

“We took a few risks last week [versus Malaysia] to blood a few youngsters and new guys. We will go back to a more tried and tested formula this week. We know it is going to be a tough game and we need to respect what Korea are all about.

“We will have a lot of experienced guys coming back into the team having been rested for a week so they will be full of energy.

“Korea is a tough test. They proved that over in Incheon a few weeks ago, and it will be a tough test again this weekend. So until we knock them over we are not looking any further than Saturday.”

Jones will enter the match with his forward pack largely intact but missing some key cogs in the backline with the Hong Kong men’s sevens squad in Europe for the Amsterdam Sevens and a few injuries in the centres, leaving Hong Kong with a 5-2 forwards-to-backs split in the reserves.

The winner of the Asia Rugby Championship will advance to the second stage of Rugby World Cup qualification with a home and away series against Cook Islands on 30 June and 7 July.  The winner of that series will advance to a four-team international play-off in France later this year to determine the 20th and final participant next year in Japan.

Hong Kong Squad v South Korea (1 June)

1. Dan BARLOW, 2. Ben ROBERTS, 3. Dylan ROGERS, 4. James CUNNINGHAM (C), 5. Kyle SULLIVAN, 6. Nick HEWSON, 7. Toby FENN, 8. Thomas LAMBOLEY, 9. Liam SLATEM, 10. Matt ROSSLEE, 11. Conor HARTLEY, 12. Max WOODWARD, 13. Jack NEVILLE, 14. YIU Kam-shing, 15. Rob KEITH, 16. Jamie TSANG, 17. Adam FULLGRABE, 18. Jack PARFITT, 19. Michael PARFITT, 20. Kane BOUCAUT, 21. Cris PIERREPONT 22. Jamie LAUDER 23. Max DENMARK, 24. Tyler SPITZ