Papua New Guinea’s addition to Cup of Nations can make ‘players more rounded’, says Hong Kong’s Leigh Jones
The tournament kicks off on Friday at King’s Park with the hosts taking on the new side and Zimbabwe playing Russia
With Hong Kong’s 2019 World Cup qualification path set to run through the Oceania region, coach Leigh Jones is relishing the addition of Papua New Guinea to this year’s Cup of Nations.
The round-robin tournament, also featuring Zimbabwe and defending champions Russia, kicks off on Friday and will see Jones’ side play three games in nine days.
“It’s great exposure to the northern hemisphere style of rugby – Russia are going to be very strong and very powerful – and then with PNG and Zimbabwe we’ve got a southern hemisphere-type approach,” Jones said.
“That mix and that exposure for our guys is going to be invaluable in terms of developing Hong Kong rugby.
“Against a new team in PNG, it offers new exposure and I just think it makes our players more rounded when we play different types of opposition.”
Hong Kong, who finished second in last year’s event behind Russia, launch their campaign against PNG and Jones is expected to name a handful of new faces to take on the 69th-ranked side.
“Papua New Guinea are the lowest-ranked team so if you are going to take a few chances this is the obvious one,” Jones said.
“We are probably experimenting more with this game and it’s got the potential to go horribly right or horribly wrong.
“We are pretty confident, we have trained really well and we are confident the youngsters will come in a do a job for us.”
While Jones will take the opportunity to put some of his up and comers under the microscope, Hong Kong will need to find some form ahead of clashes next week with 37th-ranked Zimbabwe and their biggest test against Russia.
“I think they are going to be big and physical and they’ll play a bit,” Jones said of PNG.
“They are not going to take a backward step and they’re highly skilled, so we are going to have to meet them on the front foot, make sure our set piece is effective and try not to give them much ball to play with.”
Russia sit at 21 on the rankings, four spots ahead of Hong Kong, and have arrived in Hong Kong with what looks like a stronger squad than last year.
They will be using the competition as vital preparation for the Rugby Europe Championship starting in February, the winners of whom qualify for the 2019 World Cup.
“We have managed to bring most of the strongest players over here, some of the veterans were given a bit of time off to recover and we had a couple of players that couldn’t come because of injuries,” Russia captain Vasily Artemyev said.
“All in all we have managed to bring together quite a strong squad, it is our last opportunity before the European competition starts in early February so we need to come out and play together.
“Whatever we can do now is going to be beneficial in a couple of months time.”