The heartbreaking loss to South Korea in the HSBC Asian Five Nations Top Five competition on Saturday is the perfect wake-up call for Hong Kong as they look towards qualifying for the 2015 World Cup, top official Trevor Gregory said yesterday.
'While it is disappointing to lose, it is better we lost now than two years from now when this tournament will serve as the Asian qualifiers for the World Cup when a place in the rep?chage competition is also available for the team finishing second,' said Gregory, chairman of the Hong Kong Rugby Football Union.
The 2014 Top Five competition will serve to pick one direct qualifier to represent Asia at the World Cup in England the following year, while the second-placed team are most likely to figure in a repechage against sides from other regions to decide another qualifier. Japan have always represented Asia in the past World Cups.
However, the competition to finish second will be stiff, as proven by South Korea, who snatched a 21-19 victory at Hong Kong Football Club, to show they are back to their best after being demoted to the First Division in the A5N before last season.
'Korea have stepped up. They will be a danger to our ambitions of qualifying for the 2015 World Cup. But this is good for Asia, as it shows the standards are rising,' Gregory said.
A last-gasp try from outstanding Korean outside centre Park Noh-woon three minutes from the end, allowed the visitors to regain the lead after trailing 14-19. Hong Kong had fought back well from a 14-6 deficit at half-time to take the lead for the first time in the match, but the comeback fell agonisingly short.
'We didn't play with enough confidence, especially in the first half. We allowed them to play while we stood and watched,' said Gregory. 'We could have still won it, if we had been able to seize our chances.'
Gregory, however, called on the Hong Kong team, led by No 8 Pale Tauti, not to be disheartened. Hong Kong, who have seven points and are still second in the standings behind Japan, have two more games - against Japan (May 19) and Kazakhstan (May 26). South Korea, however, have a game in hand and are well-placed to knock Hong Kong off the No 2 spot.
'There is a lot of talent in our squad, we must go to Japan with confidence,' Gregory said.