Hong Kong show early fight but Japan’s class wins out in Asia Rugby Championship clash
Brave Blossoms cruise to 59-17 victory in Tokyo to wrap up series title and Leigh Jones’ men now face must-win game against South Korea for second place
Hong Kong will enter next weekend’s must-win match against South Korea knowing a patchy performance like the one they delivered in Saturday’s 59-17 loss to Japan in Tokyo simply won’t cut it.
Victory against the Koreans will ensure Hong Kong finish second in the Asia Rugby Championship, a result crucial to their continued progression, but there is plenty of work still to be done.
Coach Leigh Jones did take some positives out of the loss to Japan, but rued a lack of sustained intensity.
“We started the game quite well, looked well in contention for 20 minutes but then the intensity just gets to us,” he said.
“We just can’t maintain that intensity for 80 minutes. We end up looking an ordinary team, with lots of errors.”
Hong Kong did indeed start well, jumping out to an early 10-0 lead thanks to an Adrian Griffiths try and the precise kicking of fly half of Ben Rimene.
Japan responded as expected and ground away at Hong Kong, soon regaining the lead and they were sitting pretty with a 24-10 lead at the break.
Jones was pleased to see an improvement in his side’s breakdown work, but expressed frustration at their inability to get everything working at once.
“There are facets of our game that improve from one week to the next but then other parts of our game decline,” Jones said.
“I come back to the professional attitude. We have to maintain consistency across all areas of our game and be able to do so for 80-85 minutes. It’s no good having a good line-out this week and then an ordinary line-out next week.”
Japan secured their second successive ARC title with the win and the high-octane nature of the match certainly will hold Hong Kong in good stead against South Korea.
Some of Hong Kong’s work was sublime, but the good ball movement just didn’t come often enough.
The lead-up to the Griffiths try saw Dan Falvey and Rowan Varty catch the home side’s defence off guard, while Rimene and Ryan Meacheam combined beautifully to send flanker James Cunningham over for Hong Kong’s second try.
The score at that point was 31-17 in Japan’s favour early in the second half, but the home side took it up a notch from there and dismantled the visitors, coupling clinical passing with brute force.
“Players of that quality, if you give them a sniff they are going to take their chances and that turned out to be the case,” Jones said.
“We lost the momentum by half-time unfortunately and it was always going to be a tough second half.”
Winger Ataata Moeakiola and centre Takuya Ishibashi both crossed twice for Japan and fly half Ryoto Nakamura was deadly in front of the sticks, going at 100 per cent to finish the day with 19 points.
Meanwhile, Hong Kong’s women suffered another heavy defeat at the hands of Japan, although there was some significant improvement despite the 30-3 scoreline.
Still in the game with the score at 10-3 at the half, Hong Kong matched Japan for the opening 15 minutes of the second period, before Japan opened the game up to run in four more tries.
“We did show some positive signs,” coach Jo Hull said.
“We had a good 50 minutes but that’s not good enough. Whilst we did improve, which is what I asked them to do, it still wasn’t a good enough performance at this level.”