A Hong Kong win would make history, says Leigh Jones ahead of crunch Russia clash
The Cup of Nations will see a third captain in as many games for the hosts, with Dan Falvey taking the reins as they eye a tier two scalp
The time is now for Hong Kong, with coach Leigh Jones calling for his side to stand up and make history by knocking off a tier two side in Saturday’s Cup of Nations decider against Russia.
Russia have at times looked tired during a below-par week and Jones is hoping he has picked a side that can make a “huge statement”.
“I think it would make history,” he said.
“I attended a course in Stellenbosch [South Africa] some months ago, I know what resources are being pumped into tier two rugby.
“World Rugby are desperate for a tier two nation to impact on the next World Cup, therefore they are putting a lot of resources in.
“If we can knock a tier two country over, that is making a huge statement.”
Jones is under no illusion on the mountain Hong Kong must climb if they are to better their runner-up finish in last year’s tournament, praising his opponent.
“Russian rugby has really advanced. I think if teams like America, teams like Canada now were to travel to Russia they would probably struggle to win over there,” he said.
“That’s the level of the opposition we are playing against.”
The Welshman on Friday made his first real statement at the selection table since the implementation of the elite rugby programme, picking only players who have maintained consistent form over a sustained period of time.
“We are not going to move forward with the elite rugby programme scheme if I reward mediocrity,” Jones said.
“It’s a simple as that. I’ve said from day one that it’s a top down, bottom up process.
“The guys have got to put it in at international level, and they always do that, I can’t fault them, but I just feel some have been pretty ordinary for their clubs so they have got to raise standards there.”
The team will be led by the third captain for the series, with Dan Falvey stepping in with the absence of Nick Hewson and Ed Rolston, and there is a total of six changes to the starting 15 from Tuesday’s game against Zimbabwe.
Ben Higgins replaces Adam Fullgrabe at prop, fly half Matt Rosslee and winger Salom Yiu Kam-shing come in and Tyler Spitz and Lex Kaleca form a completely new centre pairing.
“Our boys were a little nervous today actually, which is usually a good sign,” Jones said.
“A little up tight, I think they are ready for battle. We just need to be accurate in the battle and not let the nerves get the better of us. I think we are in a good place today.”
There is a quiet confidence in the camp, with Jones hopeful his side is ready to go a full 80 minutes against a physical and experienced opponent.
“Looking back at the game last year we probably won about 30 per cent of the ball,” he said.
“We defended manfully for 50, 60 minutes but just ran out of petrol. If we can get our set piece right, I’ve said ever since I’ve been in Hong Kong we have got some very skillful backs.
“We need to present them with some sort of a service. If we can do that I think we will be in with a game.”
For new skipper Falvey, it is business as usual despite the added responsibility – the No 8 led the side in Tokyo last year – and he is pleased with the outfit he will lead into battle.
“I think I’m pretty well prepared, working with Leigh quite closely and Edmund [Rolston] and Nick [Hewson],” he said.
“I’m not sure much is going to change really. It’s definitely a team that has been picked to do a job and it has been picked on form, not just in the first two games of this tournament but games in the league.”
Hong Kong squad:
Dan Falvey (c), Ben Higgins, Ben Roberts, Alex Ng Wai-shing, Finlay Field, Adrian Griffiths, Matthew Lamming, Toby Fenn, Jamie Hood, Matt Rosslee, Salom Yiu Kam-shing, Tyler Spitz, Lex Kaleca, Ryan Meacheam, Alex McQueen, Rohan Cook, Jamie Tsang, Jack Parfitt, Will Eversfield, Thomas Lamboley, Jason Jeyam, Ben Rimene, Alastair Maclay.