Hong Kong must match opponents up front in Emirates cup

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 06 December, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 06 December, 2012, 2:45am

Leigh Jones has called on the forwards to deliver if Hong Kong are to stand a chance of defending their Emirates Airline Cup of Nations title in Dubai.

With the sevens season mission successfully completed - Hong Kong were crowned Asian champions for the first time - the focus has shifted to 15s. The year-ending four-nation precursor to the HSBC Asian Five Nations Top Five campaign is the first step on the road to the 2015 World Cup.

The 28-strong squad which left last night for Dubai after a final training session were reminded by senior coach Jones that a successful campaign against Belgium, Zimbabwe and the United Arab Emirates would largely depend on winning good set-piece ball.

"We have to be able to match Belgium and Zimbabwe up front. Both sets of forwards will be strong and we must win our own ball to allow us to have a platform from which our backs can ask questions of the defence," Jones said.

Belgium, ranked 23rd in the world, will on paper offer the toughest opposition and Hong Kong can expect a forward-oriented game, according to Jones. Zimbabwe, the first game in the round-robin competition starting on Saturday, are also likely to front up with a strong pack. The Africans are ranked 30th. Hong Kong are 28th while UAE are still without an official world ranking.

The three-match tour will give Jones and manager Dai Rees a close look at the new crop of players, nine of whom will be winning their first caps, as Hong Kong prepare for the Asian Five Nations in April. Hong Kong will need to stay in the Top Five competition which next year serves as the Asian qualifiers for the World Cup in 2015.