Hong Kong players must translate new-found fitness into tries, says coach Leigh Jones
South Korea will provide a stiff test for captain Nick Hewson’s players as coach says his side have to adopt an attacking mindset in their next Asian championship match
It is time for Hong Kong’s newfound fitness and strength to translate into something tangible on the field after a solid, but uninspiring start to their Asia Rugby Championship (ARC) campaign.
The benefits of the elite rugby programme have been well documented – players are operating to a level of professionalism never before seen in Hong Kong 15s rugby – but it hasn’t resulted in tries.
Although they have only played two games this year – one a 38-6 defeat against a Chiefs development squad and last weekend’s 38-3 loss to Japan – coach Leigh Jones is expecting to see the hard work pay dividends.
“Adam Fullgrabe, for example, covered an awful lot of ground [against Japan] and he covered a lot of that ground quicker than he ever has,” Jones said.
“We are making definite strides in terms of fitness and speed but we also have to transfer that into direct rugby involvements as well.”
Points, in particular, will be the order of the day when Hong Kong take on South Korea in Incheon on Saturday, with the visitors looking to adopt an attacking mindset.
They hope this, coupled with high-tempo play, will not only put the home side on the back foot, but also get their tournament rolling.
“We have to stop or nullify their momentum and just create some of our own,” Jones said.
“We’re really focusing on our breakdown work this week to ensure what quality ball we do win is looked after more effectively.”
Neither team managed a try in first-up losses to Japan and Hong Kong will be looking to improved set-piece play as a launch pad.
“I’ve said right from the start that we need a good set piece to launch anything,” Jones said. “So our scrum needs to improve significantly, our line-out also needs to improve and then we can bring our backs into the game and perhaps launch a few searching attacks.
South Korea will also be hoping to rebound after a poor first-up effort and have posed Hong Kong plenty of questions in recent encounters.
Their size will stretch the visitors and putting pressure on the South Korean spine will be key for Jones’ side.
Hong Kong captain Nick Hewson is expecting some familiar faces from the two close shared encounters in last year’s ARC.
“They have got quite a few experienced guys in there that have beaten us before, so they know it’s possible,” he said.
“I think we are going to be much better with the one game under our belt. It’s a pretty similar squad (to last week), so the lessons learnt from Saturday we can put right this weekend.”
Front-rower Rohan Cook comes into the side at the expense of Jack Parfitt and joins a forward pack that struggled last week, while Lex Kaleca will start at centre, with Lee Jones moving to the bench.
“Our two problem areas were the scrum and obviously our inability to get any go forward [momentum],” Jones said.
“The changes have been made with that in mind. We are hoping our scrum will improve with Rohan, and Lex coming in will give some power and some more go forward from which we can launch better attacks.”