Kazakhstan mauling opens the door for Hong Kong
Japan's runaway 101-7 victory against Kazakhstan in the HSBC Asian Five Nations yesterday has given Hong Kong head coach Dai Rees renewed hope that his team can finish second in the Top Five competition and keep alive their World Cup dreams by qualifying for the repechage play-off against Uruguay.
Defending champions Japan steamrollered Kazakhstan in Tokyo in a 15-try rampage to all but ensure they would win this tournament for the third successive year, and book the automatic berth given to Asia at next year's World Cup in New Zealand.
The crushing defeat of Kazakhstan, as well as Friday's 21-19 win by the Arabian Gulf over South Korea in Dubai, has given fresh hope to Hong Kong, who will play Japan in their final outing on Saturday in Tokyo.
'These two results suited us perfectly,' Rees said. 'While we don't really worry about other results, the dynamics of these two outcomes benefit us. But right now all we are thinking of is to secure a bonus point against Japan.'
South Korea, who are without a win this season, know that to avoid relegation they will have to defeat Kazakhstan handsomely in their final outing on Saturday at home by scoring four or more tries to grab a bonus point.
Meanwhile, Kazakhstan are in a strange position - they can either finish second by beating South Korea with a bonus point, or face relegation if the result is reversed. Hong Kong will be hoping for the latter outcome.
'Kazakhstan went to Japan without any intention to win or compete,' Rees said. 'They went with a 21-man squad, one man short, and this was an indication of their frame of mind.
'Now they are in a situation where they will have to decide whether to play expansively and beat Korea by scoring four tries to book the repechage spot, or play more conservatively and ensure they don't lose so badly that they are relegated from the top division.'
While facing an almost impossible mission to defeat Japan, Rees is confident Hong Kong can put up a better showing than Kazakhstan did.
'Our defence is solid and we have conceded only two tries in this tournament. Our problem has been that we are underachieving in terms of ball retention. But we are not far off, and it will all be about us performing in Tokyo and not about how others will be playing,' Rees said.
However, undoubtedly he will be keeping an eye on what is happening in Incheon, too.