08 Jul 2017

Hong Kong’s Asian rugby Championship campaign got off to a rough start with a 58-0 loss to Japan in the first of the two-match series today in Odarawa. The teams will face off again next Saturday, 15 July, at Kings Park.

From the outset, the Sakura dominated the set piece and contact area in a clinical performance that caused real problems for Hong Kong coach Jo Hull’s squad. Japan jumped out to a 22-0 lead, and claimed the bonus point for scoring four tries, in the opening 25 minutes.The Sakura went on to score ten tries in total, five on either side of half time.

“It was a disappointing performance obviously, but fair play tothem, they came out hard and fast and dominated in all areas really,” said Hull.

“We played some okay rugby in parts and forced them into some mistakes defensively, but we let ourselves down, particularly at the contact area, and our set piece is underperforming at the moment,which is hurting us,” Hull added.

“We are bitterly disappointed, but no one is feeling sorry for themselves in that locker room. We know we had a bad day at the office. We need to learn from that and also put it behind us now,” said Hull.

“Collectively, we need to look inward, and ask ourselves what weare going to do as a team, as the entire squad including the girls at home, for next week. That is my challenge to the players the management, to everyone,” Hull said.

For Hull, the side now has an important opportunity to test its mettle for the last time in a match environment ahead of the world cup next month.

“We have seven days before our next test, so we need to review and get back to work on what we need to get right. That will be a good preparation for us for the World Cup, where we are going to have to be able to contest back-to-back tough matches,” added Hull.

“We are a month out from our biggest ever challenge and the players are aware that today was an unacceptable performance when we are wearing the Hong Kong jersey,but it doesn’t change what we are doing, or our belief in ourselves, our training and what we are working on. This is another opportunity now for us to get better,” said Hull.

Hong Kong’s best passage of play cameearly in the second half after reverting to a forward-heavy pick and roll style, but lost out on their best opportunity to add points and gather some momentum after a knock-on on the try-line.

Other than that, it was heavy going for the visitors, but Hull did takesome positives from the encounter:

“We exposed more players to this level and tried out some new combinations. That ability to get players this experience is a massive plus for us. If we continue to play the same girls, we risk taking a very limited squad in terms of our experience to Ireland,” noted Hull.

“BB Lee [Tsz-ting] played well at fly-half today. Her kicking game was very good and she managed the ball well despite being under pressure,” Hull added.

Hull was also pleased to see the subs bench make an impact, including 18-year old Kelsie Bouttle who earned her first cap.

“She did well; it’s tough for an 18 year old to debut in that scenario: being away versus Japan and coming on with a big deficit, but she showed composure and had some good ball in hand moments.”

Hull also complimented Rose Hopewell-Fong who came on for the second half and contributed to the positive start after the break by pairing well with captain Adrienne Garvey in the centres, before dropping back to fullback as positional cover.

“Rosie did well in a tough spot after coming on at 12 but having to move back, I think she showed how she has matured as a playertoday.

“We’ll continue to make changes this week to expose more players and combinations. My challenge to the team is to come back and show how we are going to collectively regroup and move forward,” said Hull.

Japan lead the Asia Rugby Championship table on five points ahead of next Saturday’s decider, with the final squad for the Rugby World Cup set to be announced in the week following.