It’s time to deliver like elite athletes do
It’s all on the line for Hong Kong this weekend and they must be feeling the pressure on the inside, even if they aren’t showing it on the outside.
Their match against South Korea in Incheon on Saturday presents the first real moment of truth for the side’s progress under the recently implemented elite rugby programme.
It’s early days – they are only about six months into a plan that coach Leigh Jones wants to build on over the next two to three years – but success must start now.
Jones and Hong Kong captain Nick Hewson have both highlighted getting the wood over South Korea as the first step in the plan, although Jones took a softly, softly approach this week.
“If it doesn’t happen this time, then we’ve got to look at the number two [game] and ensure we are moving in the right direction to make it happen in the future,” he said.
Fair point, for sure, and Hong Kong will get another crack at South Korea at home on June 4.
But one could argue that matching last year’s Asia Rugby Championship effort against South Korea with a win and a loss would not be moving forward at all.
If qualifying for the 2019 World Cup is a realistic goal – Hewson thinks it is – then quickly putting a significant gap between themselves and South Korea is crucial.
“I want to be part of Hong Kong when we qualify for the 2019 World Cup,” the skipper said.
He laughed while saying it, but he was deadly serious.
“If you look over the last four or five years, Korea have probably beaten us more than we have beaten them. Flipping that around is a big target for us,” Hewson said.
One thing working against Hong Kong is the lack of readily available fresh talent, with young players often leaving o study abroad and only a limited amount of seasoned heads arriving on the domestic scene each year.
Only last week’s debutant, Ryan Meacheam, is new in the current 23 and, as the old saying goes, you can’t reinvent the wheel.
There is no doubt the programme has improved– Hewson has said so himself – and that it will continue to do so.
But the reality is that no matter what Jones and his group are seeing in the gym and fitness-wise on match day, nothing but tries and wins will keep the wolves at bay.
There are some new not-yet-eligible players waiting in the wings who are expected to add something to the squad, but they need to be joining a group confident in their ability and the direction they are taking.
A loss this weekend would put a doubt in the players’ minds that may take some time to erase, whereas a big win has the potential to spark a confidence not before seen in a Hong Kong 15s side.
There is plenty to like about this side already – they have mongrel and ambition. They showed last weekend they will not be bullied; now it is a matter of producing some slick rugby to go with this determination.
This weekend’s fixture has the potential to provide the perfect launch pad.
Hong Kong are now match-hardened, they won in Incheon last year and South Korea showed against Japan that with some early pressure they will drop their heads.
“I think the start is going to be massive for us,” Hewson said.
Now it’s just a matter of Hong Kong getting that start, playing with purpose and using their newly acquired fitness to roll over South Korea, in the process kick-starting their championship and igniting their 2019 World Cup qualification ambitions.