New look, same threat: Hong Kong coach Leigh Jones wary of Japan’s strength in depth
Tourists are without any of the players who featured in their 2015 World Cup campaign, when they defeated South Africa
There is not a single player from Japan’s 2015 World Cup squad stepping out at the Hong Kong Football Club on Saturday for their Asia Rugby Championship test against the hosts – but that is where the differences end for Hong Kong coach Leigh Jones.
Despite the new faces, Jones said he was expecting to face a side very much in the same mould as the Japan team who shocked the rugby world with a thrilling upset over South Africa last September.
“There needs to be a lot of credit given there to the players themselves and to the coaching staff for almost producing a team that replicates Japan teams of old, and certainly the Japan team of the World Cup,” Jones said.
“It’s very similar.”
Seventeen players made their national debut in Japan’s opening round 85-0 demolition of South Korea and the youthfulness of the team is driving them forward.
Japan captain Keisuke Uchida said the team are thriving on the opportunity at the top level and are looking to carry on where they left off last week.
The result against South Korea highlighted the ever-growing depth of Japanese rugby, but interim coach Ryuji Nakatake admitted he was surprised by the size of the victory.
He is expecting a far tighter contest on Saturday, highlighting speed as a key ingredient for the visitors.
“I think there is a big difference between Korea and Hong Kong, especially at the breakdown,” he said.
“It’s a good breakdown, a good fight.”
Japan have made two changes to last week’s side, with four members of the Sunwolves Super Rugby squad to take the field.
Jones has earmarked a number of Japan players to watch, with last week’s stars Ryohei Yamanaka and Kentaro Kodama sure to be high on his list.
WATCH: Japan run in 13 tries in 2016 ARC opener against South Korea:
“For us to win the game we need our set piece to function and we’ll need to play a smart game,” he said.
“Japan are going to be very fit and they like to play the game at a fast tempo. We need to try and upset their pattern whilst also focusing on getting our attack right as well.”
Hong Kong have named nine of the players who took part in the Cathay Pacific/HSBC Hong Kong Sevens recently, ensuring the home side plenty of speed of their own.
While he will enter with confidence, Jones admitted he would know a lot more about what he has at his disposal after the match.
They will face a similarly tough test to the men against a Sakura 15 side who are ranked 17th in the world.
Hong Kong coach Jo Hull is expecting a fast-paced game and is looking forward to letting her charges loose.
“We’ve been working on trying to get the players to play what’s in front of them rather than just a style of rugby that’s very robotic,” she said.
“We’re trying to get the players to express themselves.”
The Hong Kong men travel to Incheon to face South Korea next weekend and both the men's and women's teams face Japan away on May 28 in Tokyo.
Jones’ men conclude their campaign at home to South Korea on June 4.