Lessons learned: ‘more cohesive’ Hong Kong planning a fast start against Korea
We stuck the yardstick out and poked it in the ground. We now know the level we need to get to and we will be better for having the first game under our belts.
The first test match in our 2016 Asia Rugby Championship campaign, last weekend against Japan, was a good wake-up call for the team, not only in terms of intensity but also in the dynamic of maintaining our skill levels against elite competition under pressure.
The match highlighted the importance of keeping the accuracy and peak performance throughout the full 80 minutes and also shows the entire team where we need to go if and when we are to qualify for the 2019 Rugby World Cup.
In terms of expectations, the result should have been closer than 38-3, and I firmly believe that if we executed our plans we could have been sniffing down the barrel of an upset, but that just highlights the miniscule margins in the elite international game now.
You make errors and the very good teams punish you with points. If you fail to establish any momentum, the defences will dominate you and if you are even a few percentage points off on the day you can bet that you will be staring at a big margin of defeat on the scoreboard.
The message for me and the team from last Saturday’s match is that we are demanding more of each other in terms of our collective accuracy and in the need to ensure that we are constantly winning at the gain-line, in both defence and attack.
We are now much better after that first 80 minutes of rugby together.
Entering this weekend’s second hit-out and the first of the year against South Korea, the squad are taking on board the lessons from the loss to Japan and building togetherness and cohesion – establishing those relationships that will make us tighter as a group going forward.
South Korea are going to be a massive threat. They have just come off the back of a real hammering in their 85-0 loss to Japan in the first round of the regional championship.
In front of their home crowd and playing for a new boss in former Hong Kong coach John Walters, there will be no better opportunity for the Koreans to redeem themselves than beating us on Saturday.
The first 20 minutes are going to be vital to both teams in terms of who will be best able to assert their ascendancy.
Korea was never a happy hunting ground for Hong Kong until last year when we rewrote the record books and had our first victory in Incheon since 2008, when the Asian championship in its latest incarnation was formed.
That win came on the last play of the game as we just got over the line in a high-scoring match that finished 43-42.
It was one of many hard-fought battles against South Korea. When they get their game going they play like men possessed, which is why it is so important for us to establish our momentum early.
A fast start is paramount to us getting success.
At the elite rugby training centre at THEi, the boys have been focusing on how they can improve themselves.
“This is where it went wrong” … “this is where I can get better” … “this is how I’m going to get better” – these have been key focal points for us as individuals and as a group.
As captain I have been hugely impressed with the accountability and professionalism the guys are showing as they look forward to the opportunity to put things right this weekend.
Hopefully, we can piece together a few things and show the public a marked improvement week to week throughout the championship.