It’s time to get up close and personal
The victory over Sri Lanka has resulted in Hong Kong moving up one spot in the IRB world rankings to a record-equalling 25th place.
It still means a trip to Uruguay for the first round of the 2015 World Cup repêchage if we beat South Korea on Saturday as the South American nation is ranked 20th and the team with the better ranking will host the one-off game which will decide who moves into the next stage of the qualifying process.
If Hong Kong are triumphant at Hong Kong Football Club this weekend, their ranking could rise further as Korea are at 23. It’s heady stuff but senior coach Leigh Jones wasn’t overly impressed with the 41-10 victory in Colombo.
The night before, Jones and the rest of the team management feasted on a crab curry dinner at Colombo’s marquee restaurant, the Ministry of Crab, which is partly owned by the nation’s two leading cricketers – Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayewardene.
Jones and company didn’t get the chance to meet with the pair as they were on tour in Ireland and England, so they had to settle for second best – meeting the country’s rugby stars the next day.
While not household names, Fazil Marija and Srinath Suriyabandara are still well-known across the island and definitely in local rugby circles.
And if Sri Lanka’s rugby-playing first family has its way, rugby can also bring kudos to the island-nation with plans afoot to field foreign-born players at both 15s and sevens.
The move to field three Fijians against Hong Kong proved ill-conceived as the Sri Lankan authorities couldn’t back it up with the necessary paperwork.
As it was, Jones conceded that Sri Lanka won the battle at the breakdown, a worrying aspect with South Korea coming to town.
The statistics tell the story – Hong Kong led 29-0 at half-time, while in the second half it was 12-10. In the first half, Sri Lanka put in 31 tackles against Hong Kong’s seven. In the second half it was 41-25.
If Hong Kong again lose the break down area, we face the danger of seeing our repêchage dreams being wiped away.
The Koreans are very proud of the way they scrum. It is one of their strong points and there is no chance that Leon Wei Hon-sum, James Cooper and Tom Bolland will be able to push the Korean front row off their own ball at will.
Our back row of Nick Hewson, Matt Lamming and Pale Tauti will have to bring their A game and be prepared to get their hands dirty in the breakdown if we are to defeat Korea for the first time in three years.
Colombo was a good wake-up call. Jones is canny enough to see the forest and not just the trees, and hopefully will have hammered the message home that we have to get up close and personal with the Koreans on Saturday.