Hong Kong must go pro to test Japan, says Eddie Jones
Brave Blossoms coach says the home side can beat his team only with full-time players
Hong Kong can pose a threat to Japan's dominance in Asia, says Brave Blossoms head coach Eddie Jones, but not today and only if the Hong Kong Rugby Football Union decides to go down the road of professionalism.
Just a few days after it was confirmed the sevens programme will go full-time with the assistance of the Hong Kong Sports Institute, Jones suggested Asia's number one team would have to look over their shoulder if the HKRFU decided to follow suit with its 15s programme, too.
"Hong Kong is ahead of Japan as far as sevens is concerned right now and if their 15s team, too, did the same thing [investing a lot of resources and becoming full-time pros] then Hong Kong would pose a threat," said Jones on the eve of today's HSBC Asian Five Nations encounter at Hong Kong Football Club.
Right now everyone agrees the threat is minimal. The results over the past few years also point to that: 67-0 last year, 45-22 (2011), 94-5 (2010), 59-6 (2009) and 75-29 (2008).
Hong Kong head coach Leigh Jones admitted the gulf between the teams was huge. "I'm not sure it is [a level playing field] at the moment," said Jones. "You don't need to be a rugby pundit to realise that and know when you are pitting semi-professionals against full-time pros what the outcome will be. It will be a tough ask for the players."
So should the HKRFU bite the bullet and contract players full time? Should 15s also have a full-time programme similar to what sevens will soon have?
Hong Kong's Jones refused to be drawn into that debate, saying only it was a decision for the "powers that be".
He added: "I'm just a mere mortal, no comment."
His players are also likely to be shown up as mere mortals by the Japanese today. The Asian powerhouse swept aside the Philippines 121-0 in Fukuoka last Saturday, scoring 105 of those points in the final 50 minutes.
But Japan's Jones was not reading too much into that opening result as he believed the opposition was poor. "This is our most important game in the A5N. We respect Hong Kong greatly and we are expecting a physical challenge. We have got to do the hard yards," he said.
If Japan turn up with their 100 miles-per-hour style of game which the former World Cup coach of Australia dreams of - "Win it, Keep it, Move it" - then expect Hong Kong to be blown away.
Missing all of their 12 sevens players who are being kept on ice for the London Sevens in a fortnight, Hong Kong will also be without number one fly-half Chris McAdam who broke ribs in last weekend's 53-7 victory over the United Arab Emirates. They are also missing numbers up front with only two front-rowers on the bench, Tom Bolland and Steve Nolan, to back up starting trio Leon Wei, Alex Harris and James Cooper.
But skipper Tom McColl remained upbeat. "Two years ago we had a very good second half against Japan, out-scoring them. The target is to put in a good 80 minutes.
"If we can come away with meeting all the targets we have set ourselves and reach our own benchmark, the scoreline will take care of itself."