Coach’s Corner

The Hong Kong way takes shape despite familiar ending to Cup of Nations

Leigh Jones’ attention to detail and targeted training sessions see his side develop their own unique style of rugby, says assistant Andy Hall

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 24 November, 2016, 5:30pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 24 November, 2016, 6:02pm

You’d be forgiven for sensing an element of Groundhog Day in the result of last weekend’s Cup of Nations – same competition, same finalists and the same result.

However, from my perspective things could not be more different.

It’s been 12 months since I handed back the reins of the national 15s side to Leigh Jones and he’s been cracking his whip from day one impressing a training regime and a style of play that we are developing as “The Hong Kong Way”.

Before a ball had been kicked in this year’s Cup of Nations, fellow national coach Craig Hammond and I were chatting over a coconut water (Craig) and a beer (me) about the remarkable contrast between this and last year’s preparation.

The level of detail that Leigh has added as a result of his experience with Eddie Jones’ Japan has been significant and has certainly pushed us as coaches, as well the players of course.

Watch: Hong Kong v Russia highlights

That’s not to say we were doing a bad job beforehand!

As one coconut water led to another, Craig and I took the somewhat Socratic stance that you don’t know what you don’t know!

We soon got up to speed however recognising that detail is fundamental to unlocking the potential of the Hong Kong Way.

Not being the biggest boys on the block Hong Kong cannot rely on barnstorming, door bashing, confrontational rugby.

We need significantly more guile playing a tempo that literally runs our opposition off their feet. It is perhaps an obvious coaching point to play to your strengths but how do we coach high tempo? Therein lies the detail.

Through establishing key running measures from GPS data of previous international games we aim to replicate these demands at training.

In actual fact we work harder in training than the game demands. This level of “overchallenge” is the first piece of the detail jigsaw that allows us to sustain a high tempo game.

And then there’s WOB. Work off the ball is the next level of detail that Leigh has introduced that again is fundamental to the Hong Kong Way.

Players spend most of the game away from the ball so we place a huge emphasis on how hard players work in getting up from the ground, or back into position or chasing a kick and so on.

This piece of detail is so simple. If we don’t work hard enough off the ball, to get into position, how can we play a high tempo?

Finally our training time is carefully managed to reflect “ball in play time”. Gone are the 90-minute or two-hour slog sessions.

When we work at match intensity we do so for no more than 35 minutes; the average time the ball is in play. Within that time we don’t have the opportunity to repeat plays if we make a mistake.

If we don’t get things right, we move on. This is tough for coaches who often look for clean and tidy sessions but as Leigh has detailed numerous times, the game isn’t clean and tidy so why train it?

Hong Kong cry out for a game-breaker as Cup of Nations again ends with heavy loss to Russia

It is also rare that we run “generic drills”. Leigh demands detail in the activities we design ensuring they are specific to each of the key positional units within the team.

For example a back rower will practise a different type of ball carry to a prop. A wing will practise a different type of breakdown to a second row. Detail on the detail.

There are obviously more ingredients to the Hong Kong Way and we are careful not to get lost in all the detail.

We still need a functioning set piece. We still need to dent or breach the gain line and still need players executing their basic skills all at a tempo that our opposition cannot cope with.

WATCH: Highlights and full replays of the 2016 Cup of Nations in Hong Kong

Parking last Saturday’s result for a moment, for those who witnessed the final at the weekend might have noticed the effect the Hong Kong Way had on the opposition.

Did you spot how fatigued the Russian’s looked? Did you see how they attempted to slow the game down, walking to every set piece? Did you notice how often they were bent down hands on knees?

I am in no doubt this is the way we need to play. We have come a long way in a year and it’s an exciting prospect to see how far we can progress our Hong Kong Way over the next twelve months.