Formidable Japan up next as Hong Kong seek direct route to World Cup
Hong Kong will have everything to play for when they take on Japan in the Asian Five Nations finale in Tokyo on May 25, with top official Dai Rees harbouring hopes of an upset.
If Hong Kong win, they gain direct entry into the 2015 World Cup as A5N champions. If they lose, they face a 37-hour flight to face Uruguay in Montevideo in the first round of a repechage to qualify for the 2015 World Cup.
"Our win over South Korea was the best performance I have seen from a Hong Kong team in the six years I have been here but nothing has changed really as Japan will still be the firm favourites to book the direct route to the World Cup," said Rees, the Hong Kong Rugby Football Union's head of technical development and performance.
The 39-6 victory over South Korea on Saturday will see Hong Kong rise (from 25th) to their best-ever placing in the IRB world rankings when they are announced on Monday. More significantly, the win has assured Hong Kong second place in Asia - a position they last held in 2011 - which will also keep alive their hopes of qualifying for the World Cup in England.
"This side has not only created history by becoming the first team to reach a repêchage in World Cup qualifying, but we are still in with a chance of booking the direct route if we beat Japan. We have come a long way, but so have Japan and they showed it with that massive [132-10] win over Sri Lanka.
"It will be great going to Tokyo with the series still alive and everything to play for. It will also be the last game at the National Olympic Stadium in Tokyo before it is renovated, so it will be a grand occasion," Rees said.
While everyone from Rees to Hong Kong captain Nick Hewson dares to dream, realistically Japan are bound to be too strong, leaving Hong Kong facing a long haul to Montevideo for the August 9 clash against Uruguay's Los Teros. The winners will enter the final stage of repechage to face either an African or European team in home-and-away encounters to decide the 20th and last team at the World Cup.
Zimbabwe, Madagascar, Kenya and favourites Namibia are still in contention in the African qualifiers. The top team will qualify as Africa 1 for the World Cup with the runners-up meeting either Russia or Germany to decide who will meet the winners of the game between Uruguay and Asia's second-placed team.
"All our focus right now is on Japan," says Rees. "But if we lose, we will go to Uruguay with huge hopes of defeating them. We will plan to go early. Last year we [the sevens team] went to the World Games in Colombia and it took us 37 hours to get there. It will be a similar journey to Uruguay. But before we cross that bridge, let's dream about beating Japan."