Head coach Leigh Jones has made three changes for what he says is the “most important 15s game” Hong Kong has ever faced – against South Korea in the Asian Five Nations at Hong Kong Football Club on Saturday.
“It is a massive game with huge implications. It is perhaps the single largest or most important game we have played in 15s in Hong Kong,” said Jones, referring to the A5N being the final stage of Asian qualifying for the 2015 World Cup.
The winners of the A5N – likely to be Japan – will advance to the World Cup as Asia 1, while the runners-up move on to the repêchage stage against Uruguay.
“This is a defining match for us in respect of our Rugby World Cup aspirations, in terms of reaching the repêchage stage,” Jones said.
“Korea have a lot of professional players, so we will go in as underdogs but there is quiet anticipation and confidence among the squad that it is a game we can win if we play well. We reviewed video and the guys have a healthy respect for the task ahead of us.
“We’ve done enough over the opening weeks to ensure our place in the top three next year so that’s one box ticked. But this match is all about the repêchage. If we pass the test, we would be setting a milestone in Hong Kong history by being the first team to advance to the latter stages of World Cup qualification. As a one-off game, it is probably right up there for me in terms of its importance on a personal level.
“For the players it is an opportunity to make a statement about the strength of our 15s rugby in Hong Kong and the strength of this team in particular.”
The coach has kept faith in the starting forward pack from last week’s win over Sri Lanka, but has made three changes in the backs.
Peter McKee earns a start at scrum-half over utility back Jamie Hood, winger Salom Yiu Kam-shing returns from a slight niggle to take Tom McQueen’s place, and Alex McQueen returns to fullback after being on the reserve bench in Colombo. Rowan Varty will move to the right wing to make room for Yiu.
“This is the correct 15 for South Korea with a lot of strong support available from the bench to reinforce the effort,” Jones said.
“Our forwards have been very evident in the early weeks but we will [require] a ‘whole team’ effort for this game. Primary possession will be much more evenly shared and therefore our backs will need to help in terms of their overall defensive effort and making things happen when they get the ball,” he added.
Hong Kong remain undefeated in their 2014 A5N campaign after wins over the Philippines (108-0) and Sri Lanka (41-10). South Korea defeated Sri Lanka 59-3 in their only A5N encounter so far this year.
Hong Kong squad
1-Leon Wei Hon-sum; 2-Tom Bolland; 3-James Cooper; 4-Jack Delaforce; 5-Paul Dwyer; 6-Nick Hewson (captain); 7-Matt Lamming; 8-Pale Tauti; 9-Peter McKee; 10-Chris McAdam; 11-Salom Yiu Kam-shing; 12-Jake Phelps; 13-Lloyd Jones; 14-Rowan Varty; 15-Alex McQueen
Replacements: 16-Alex Ng Wai-shing; 17-Steve Nolan; 18-Alex Harris; 19-Bill Brant; 20-Jamie Hood; 21-Nick Wheatley; 22-Tom McQueen