'Let's cement our place as Asia's No 2 side'

PUBLISHED : Monday, 23 May, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 23 May, 2011, 12:00am

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Forget Japan and let's cement our place as Asia's number two team, was the strident call from Hong Kong Rugby Football Union's head of performance, Dai Rees, a day after Hong Kong clinched their first runners-up spot at the HSBC Asian Five Nations Top Five competition.

National coach Rees has already set his sights on the qualifying process for the 2015 World Cup - 'our next goal' - and insisted that it would be a futile exercise trying to match Japan.

'There is no point talking about the differences [in class] between Japan and Hong Kong,' Rees said. 'Japan has a professional league and is a full-time outfit and miles ahead of anyone else in Asia. I keep getting frustrated by being asked what's the difference between Japan and Hong Kong.

'It isn't about that. It's about Hong Kong retaining strength in depth; it's about Hong Kong building on this success, bringing more talent through and ensuring that we stay in the top two in Asia.'

Hong Kong lost 45-22 to Japan and have never come close to beating the Asian powerhouse in the Asian Five Nations or at the Asian championships.

Hong Kong finished second for the first time in the four-year history of the tournament after crushing the United Arab Emirates 62-3 on Saturday and away wins to Kazakhstan (23-10) and Sri Lanka (48-3)

Japan claimed their fourth consecutive title with a 90-13 thrashing of Sri Lanka in Colombo on Saturday. UAE finished third, while Kazakhstan were fourth. Sri Lanka will be demoted next season, and their spot will be filled by the winners of the First Division tournament comprising South Korea, Malaysia, Singapore and the Philippines next month.

Hong Kong will be buoyed by Japan coach John Kirwan's sentiments after the game in Colombo, when he promised that the goal of the Brave Blossoms at this year's World Cup would be to win two games and thus pave the way for another Asian team at the 2015 tournament.

Kirwan said: 'At the World Cup, we will do our best to win at least two games. That way, another Asian nation can participate in the World Cup for the first time ever in the history of Asian rugby, and this would be instrumental for the development of rugby in Asia.'

Two wins for Japan would mean they finish in the top 12 and earn automatic qualification for the 2015 World Cup. This could open the door for Asia's second-best team.

'We are second now, and we got to stay there,' Rees said. 'Japan are a world-class side, they qualify for every World Cup, and it's about us looking after our own professional set-up. This group of players we have now are here for the long haul, with the odd exception. We've got players coming in, as well, through the development system. I think we've got the core of a squad now who can sustain Hong Kong's performance for the next few years.'