‘We know we’re up against it,’ says Highlanders coach Jamie Joseph in battle against Racing 92 in Hong Kong
Star teams from southern and northern hemispheres clash in Natixis Cup
Hong Kong will get first look at the 2016 version of reigning Super Rugby champions the Highlanders when they take on French club Racing 92 in the Natixis Cup on Saturday, February 6.
Highlanders coach Jamie Joseph is preparing his charges for their first match since the Super Rugby decider last July and is expecting a fierce contest at Siu Sai Wan stadium against a battle-hardened Racing 92 featuring New Zealand World Cup hero Dan Carter.
“Racing has been in top form in their competition in France so we know we’re up against it, given we haven’t played and they’re mid-season,” Joseph said. “But we’re really excited about the challenge.”
Joseph threw his support behind the concept of the Natixis Cup, one of the highlights of the Hong Kong rugby calendar.
Outside of the match itself, the chance to travel to Hong Kong has been the cause of much anticipation for Joseph and his team.
“It’s extremely special because a lot of our players haven’t been to Hong Kong, so the setting for such a great game of footy is especially exciting,” Joseph said.
“As a player coming from Japan down to Hong Kong for the 10-a-side tournaments over the years, it’s always been a great city to play rugby. For me to be able to take a team to Hong Kong is just a really good opportunity for us.”
It has been a whirlwind start to 2016 for Joseph, with the former New Zealand and Japan player recently taking on the coaching role of Japan’s national team.
He will fulfil his commitments with the Highlanders, taking him to the end of this coming season, before moving to Japan to begin a contract that will see him lead the Brave Blossoms through to the 2019 World Cup on home soil.
He has big shoes to fill following the team’s success at the 2015 World Cup under Eddie Jones, highlighted by a brilliant underdog victory over South Africa, but Joseph is hopeful he can continue to improve the side.
“There’s no doubt Eddie has done a wonderful job with Japanese rugby,” Joseph said. “Like Eddie, I have got three years to prepare for the World Cup. It’s going to be a lot of hard work between now and then.
“It’s difficult because the player base in Japan, in terms of quality, experienced players, isn’t what I’m used to as opposed to New Zealand.
“But every year there are more Japanese players playing overseas and getting that experience that is needed to play international rugby and that is going to hold them in reasonable stead.”
Ahead of his sixth season in charge of the Highlanders, Joseph said he felt the timing was perfect to return to Japan and admitted the lure of coaching at a World Cup was a major factor in his decision.
That being said, he has his sights set firmly on the coming Super Rugby season and believes the Highlanders are in a solid position to push for back-to-back titles.
“We think our chances are as good as anybody else’s,” Joseph said. “I owe it to this franchise and to this rugby union that has supported me for the past six or seven years and I really want to go out on a positive note and that’s what I’ve been concentrating on.”