Hong Kong chief stands by Leigh Jones before coach jumps ship
Hong Kong chief Trevor Gregory has wholeheartedly thrown his support behind head coach Leigh Jones remaining in charge for the final Asian Five Nations game against Japan, despite the Welshman switching camps to the Brave Blossoms after the high-stakes clash in Tokyo on Sunday.
“Leigh is a proud Welshman and I know he will want Hong Kong to win this game more than ever to show his new bosses what he is bringing to the table,” Gregory said.
“I would not have allowed him to stand down. I don’t think there is a conflict of interest and I’m comfortable with his presence in the dressing room.”
Jones will take up the role of defence coach with Japan after the winner-takes-all game in Tokyo, which guarantees automatic qualification to the next year World Cup. The runners-up will go into the first stage of a repêchage against Uruguay.
“I am very mindful of the fact that I have one more job to fulfil with Hong Kong on Sunday,” Jones said. “I have always maintained that this is a unique group of players and coaches.
“We have already made history together by qualifying for the Rugby World Cup repêchage and I can think of nothing sweeter than to part with what would be a historic victory.
“At the same time, I am excited to pursue this fantastic opportunity with the Japan Rugby Football Union and I look forward to working with [coach] Eddie Jones,” Jones said.
Gregory said: “There is bound to be a lot of emotion in the dressing room before the game. I know the guys will want to give it all for him and I know he will only have the interests of Hong Kong at heart.”
Former captain Pale Tauti said Jones informed the squad before the qualifying campaign began that he would be leaving to join Japan.
“The players knew he would be leaving the Hong Kong set-up before the Asian Five Nations began and the boys have got over that,” said No 8 Tauti.
“I don’t think his departure will cause any issues and upset any balance. I know his heart is still with Hong Kong at this stage and I know the guys are determined to give it their best shot.
“This is a huge opportunity for Leigh, but it would be interesting if we could manage to defeat Japan and relegate them to the repêchage route,” Tauti laughed.
Dai Rees, HKRFU’s head of technical development and performance, said: “We [Hong Kong Rugby Football Union] have known about this for some time now. He will be a massive loss and has done a great deal since he arrived here.”
Jones arrived in 2010 with his coaching credentials, including stints at Ebbw Vale, Newport, Dragons, Wales A and Wales.
He has taken Hong Kong to their best placing in the IRB rankings at 23rd For the first time, they enter the final game in the A5N with a chance of reaching the World Cup.
“Undoubtedly, Leigh’s departure is a great loss, but he has done a great job and it clearly shows in the standing of our team,” Gregory said.
“The team is now well-structured and the game plan is clear, everybody knows what they are doing. Hong Kong is in much better shape now and we can look forward to taking on Uruguay in the repêchage.”