A few eyebrows were raised when Uruguay was frequently mentioned in the run-up to last Sunday’s Asian Five Nations game against Japan, with some asking why Hong Kong were looking ahead to the repêchage when they still had to play the Asian champions for the automatic berth at the 2015 World Cup. We, too, wished for a miracle in Tokyo, but the mind said the task was near impossible. And so it proved as the Japanese juggernaut won 49-8 and booked their World Cup ticket for the eighth successive time. It is always good to be optimistic but sometimes a pragmatic approach serves you better in life. Hong Kong had limitations and these were cruelly exposed by Japan who, despite being frustrated by a torrid defence, still had enough nous and firepower to run in eight tries. Can Hong Kong rely solely on their defence in the historic encounter in Montevideo in August? Dai Rees, team manager on the day, summed up their predicament in Tokyo when he said “there is only so long you can play without the ball”. Japan even robbed us off our primary possession by putting our set pieces, especially the scrum, under immense pressure and pushing us on the back foot. Skipper Nick Hewson believes the difference between Hong Kong (23rd in the world) and teams in the top 15 (Japan are 13th) is that the top sides are able to maintain the intensity throughout the game, while Hong Kong “faded in that last five or 10 minutes in each half as we were fatigued”. But a more pressing issue is we failed to secure good primary possession. Hong Kong have always struggled to find a combative front row and while we might have looked good against the Philippines, Sri Lanka and South Korea, our shortcomings were underlined against a team of full-time professionals beefed up by a number of players who feature in Super Rugby. Unless we can address this situation, the going will be tough against Uruguay, who are bound to have a big pack and fleet-footed backs dripping with adventurous Latin flair. Young front-rowers like Leon Wei Hon-sum and Alex Ng Wai-shing have come of age in this campaign but still have some way to go. Hooker Alex Harris and James Cooper have also provided yeoman service but will need to find another gear. And will Hong Kong Football Club duo Steve Nolan and Tom Bolland be around for one last hurrah? Under the reign of Leigh Jones, we punched well above our weight to give Japan some moments of concern. We now have to turn those moments into minutes – many minutes – as we try to knock out Uruguay (ranked 20th) and, should we get past them, Russia (19th). From Sun Tzu to Bismarck, the best military masterminds in history have always opted for attack as the best form of defence. We didn’t have the ball to attack, let alone the legs, against Japan.