Jones to say sayonara, but leaves Hong Kong on a high
How I would love to be a fly on the wall in the Hong Kong dressing room before they run out against Japan in Tokyo on Sunday in what is arguably the biggest game of their lives.
Alright, this was the line used a fortnight ago by head coach Leigh Jones, the man of the moment after it emerged he would be jumping ship and joining Japan as soon as the Asian Five Nations ends on Sunday.
Jones said before the game against South Korea it was “the biggest game ever for Hong Kong”. Maybe so, but now that we thumped the Koreans by five tries to none, the Tokyo clash transcends that as we are only 80 minutes away from booking a place in the 2015 World Cup.
Hong Kong have never played at this level before. We might have the proud record of having appeared at every Rugby Sevens World Cup, but as far as the 15s version is concerned, it has been Japan who has represented Asia since the first World Cup in 1987.
At the inaugural tournament, Japan were invited simply because of their standing and a certain person named Shigeru “Shiggy Konno”, Japan’s “Mr Rugby”. Since then they have qualified for the next six World Cups and are hot favourites to do so again this time around.
Emotions will be running high come Sunday in Tokyo and the Hong Kong dressing room is bound to be electric – not only will we have a coach saying sayonara, but a few players may also be turning out for the last time.
And Trevor Gregory, the departing chairman of the Hong Kong Rugby Football Union, has also been invited into the inner sanctum, and will add poignancy to the moment as Jones makes his final speech to the team.
When I first heard Jones would become part of the Jones and Jones (Eddie) act for Japan, my immediate reaction was he should have stepped down after the Korea game citing a conflict of interest. How could a coach who was sleeping with the enemy be at the helm of a team with stars in the eyes and hope in their heart?
But on reflection, and having listened to a few people, my gut reaction was probably a bit too harsh on Jones, who after all is a professional.
Gregory confirmed those views when he said Jones was a “proud Welshman” and that he had no qualms about him still being in charge. And Gregory is right.
Until Sunday evening, Jones is coach of Hong Kong and his presence might again fire the team to unprecedented heights. There is no doubt he is an inspirational coach – the results are plain to see with Hong Kong at their highest-ever IRB ranking of 23.