HK eye bonus points in Tokyo
Coach Leigh Jones has challenged captain Pale Tauti and his forwards to produce the goods tomorrow if Hong Kong are to have any hope of pushing champions Japan - even 'sneaking a win' - in the HSBC Asian Five Nations Top Five competition at Prince Chichibu Stadium in Tokyo.
'The test lies in our forward pack being able to sustain their intensity for the full 80 minutes,' said senior coach Jones before leaving yesterday for his side's penultimate game in the elite group.
Injury worries and fitness concerns have resulted in an extended squad of 24 players travelling to Tokyo. There are still some lingering doubts over the fitness of flyhalf Keith Robertson, but the biggest headache for Jones is not the potency of his backline but the prospect of them being reduced to spectators by a rampant Japan outfit who have crushed the United Arab Emirates, Kazakhstan and South Korea, all by 60-point-plus margins.
'We need to get something out of this game and, while sneaking a win would be great, what is important is we have also got to be realistic,' Jones said. 'If we get a couple of bonus points, we would have achieved something against Japan.
'One way to achieve these bonus points, and perhaps an elusive win, is not to play a set-piece game against a strong Japanese pack. We have to go out and play our own game, and to do that we need good ball.'
The onus will be on No8 Tauti and his forwards to provide the good ball which Jones wants. Against South Korea a fortnight ago, Hong Kong couldn't get enough numbers to the breakdown, especially in the first half, allowing the visitors to control the game. Although Hong Kong came back strongly in the second half, they wilted towards the end, allowing the fitter Koreans to edge home 21-19.
The season began with talk of pulling off a win over a new-look Japan taking their first step under new coach Eddie Jones. Three convincing wins by Japan, coupled with the disappointment of the Korean game, have tempered those expectations. But if Hong Kong can come away with bonus points - scoring four tries or finishing within a seven-point margin of defeat - it will be quite an accomplishment.
Open-side flanker Mark Wright could be the only change in the pack which started against Korea, coming in for Mark Goosen, who will be on the bench. If Robertson is passed fit, he will pair off with scrumhalf Cado Lee, who gets his first opportunity to start this season. Anthony Haynes has been pencilled in to start in midfield alongside Lee Jones, while Ross Armour will win back his fullback slot from Alex McQueen.
'Our challenge will be to maintain our defensive set-up for 80 minutes,' Jones said. 'It will be a huge test playing in Tokyo. But what better way than testing the champions in their own backyard?'
Points Japan have scored in three crushing victories over South Korea, UAE and Kazakhstan
They have conceded only 11