Leigh Jones turns focus to youth as Hong Kong crush South Korea to end Asia Rugby Championship on high
Home side hit their strides late to win 39-3 as Welsh boss looks to August tour of Kenya to give game time to up-and-comers
Youth will be at the forefront of Hong Kong coach Leigh Jones’ plans in the coming months after his side secured second spot in the Asia Rugby Championship with a 39-3 win over South Korea on Saturday.
Hong Kong were forced to work in a scrappy affair at Hong Kong Football Club but eventually found their groove to pile on 26 second-half points.
Jones highlighted lock Kyle Sullivan as one up-and-comer who impressed him during the series and scrum half Cado Lee Ka-to, while not as young, also made significant strides.
“We’ve got some great youngsters, you look at the number nines in Hong Kong, we have some quality there,” Jones said.
“Young Kyle Sullivan has put his hand up today coming off the bench and we have got Fin Field who unfortunately has been injured.”
An August tour to Kenya is the first 15s assignment after the summer break and it is then that Jones hopes to give his young players every chance to shine.
“It’s going to be about availability of players, the sevens boys will be preparing for the Asian series and it’s quite a long trip so I’m not sure how many of the guys that are working can take that time off,” he said.
“I think we will be taking the same tack as last year and take a bunch of youngsters and expose them to international rugby.”
Jones made note of the progress Hong Kong made throughout the ARC with two competitive showings against Japan and two big wins against the Koreans, singling out Matt Rosslee’s effort.
“I’m delighted, I think we have shown we have grown as a group with four reasonably consistent performances to show that the professional era is paying off,” he said.
“Overall I think we have got to be happy with the campaign. A special mention would be Matt Rosslee, he’s a centre playing out of position at 10 and he’s done such a sterling job in defence for us.”
Despite being pleased with the overall effort, Jones was left with plenty to ponder after Hong Kong’s patchy display, especially early, on Saturday.
“I’m not too happy with today, we probably left four or five tries out there in actual fact,” he said.
It was South Korea who opened the scoring in the ninth minute through a penalty to Yu Jae-hyeok, with Jamie Hood countering from the tee minutes later for Hong Kong.
The first half was a scrappy affair from the get go but Hong Kong’s class and strength saw them edge ahead, first through a 25th-minute try to Nick Hewson.
As the British & Irish Lions and even Japan kick into gear, Hong Kong are whipping out the zinc cream and hitting the beach
Hood added the extras and then split the sticks from another penalty in the shadows of the break to make it 13-3.
A sustained effort from Hong Kong’s forwards saw them extend their lead early in the second half through a penalty try, with Hood again on target from the tee.
The home side’s next try came on 66 minutes, with a string of passes after a Tyler Spitz break seeing Ben Rimene dot down in the corner thanks to a sublime offload from Charlie Higson-Smith.
Dan Falvey was in on the act soon after in similar circumstances, finishing off some good work after Sullivan cut through the South Korea defence.
Hong Kong power through ‘tipping point’ to land one of the best wins of the Leigh Jones era against South Korea
Rimene’s conversion made it 32-3, before Lee put the icing on the cake with a try on the buzzer, with Falvey taking the honours of popping over the conversion.
“I’m so glad we didn’t wither away and die,” Jones said. “The subs came on and made a real difference for the first time and I think we pinched three tries at the end because of the impetus the substitutions brought.”