Hong Kong complete 25-hour journey to Cook Islands and shift focus to ‘the most important game’ in their history
Leigh Jones’ men out to defy time difference and brutal forward pack in their latest phase of World Cup qualifying
Hong Kong have completed a “horrendous” 25-hour journey to the Cook Islands for the first leg of their two-match World Cup qualifier on Sunday morning [Hong Kong time], with coaches opting not to adjust to the staggering time difference.
Leigh Jones’ men set off to the South Pacific nation – 18 hours behind Hong Kong – on Tuesday night, which included a 12-hour flight to Auckland, New Zealand, and a 10-hour stopover, before a final three-hour flight to Rarotonga.
“It throws our body clocks off significantly,” said the Jones, who saw his team march one step closer to World Cup qualification with a convincing 39-5 win over South Korea earlier this month.
“We could have gone in there early and acclimatised, but then we have to travel back and play in Hong Kong seven days later. [There is] potential that we could be undercooked at both ends.
“Not to overplay it but it’s probably the most important game in Hong Kong rugby history. We have been planning meticulously and we’ve decided to stay on Hong Kong time to make the home adjustment easier.”
The teams will travel back to the Hong Kong for the second leg on July 7, with the aggregate winner moving into a four-team repechage with Canada, the loser of Germany v Samoa and the runner-up of the Africa Cup.
The winner of the repechage secures a spot in Japan next year – the first World Cup ever to be held in Asia. Hong Kong are ranked 22nd in the world, the Cook Islands 54th.
“It’s a horrendous trip in many ways but we’ve been preparing well for it,” said Jones, adding that the team spent their layover in Auckland training with Super Rugby team the Chiefs. “It is what it is; we’ll travel as well as anyone can travel.
“It’s cup rugby and we’re away from home so we need to be smart and disciplined. We’re going into the unknown and they have some quality players who have played [Top 14] in France.
“Sam Anderson-Heather played against last year’s British Lions with the Highlanders. It’s a tough challenge – particularly with the forwards – but we’re aware of that.”
Jones will be taking two extra players on top of his initial 23-man squad as “you never quite know, someone can pick up a bug on the flight”.
Ben Roberts and Tyler Spitz will miss the tie but the team will be rejuvenated by returns from Lex Kaleca, Cris Pierrepont, Jamie Hood and Alexander Post.
“We’ve got a couple of injuries but we’ve been playing really well. From day one we’ve tried to develop some depth and that’s really coming to the fore,” said Jones.
“The guys have been superb – very focused – and have trained magnificently over the past few weeks. The down week has given us a chance to rest and re-energise. We’re in a good place and it’s time to play.”
Hong Kong squad:
Daniel Barlow, Jamie Tsang, Dylan Rogers, James Cunningham, Jack Delaforce, Nicholas Hewson, Toby Fenn, Thomas Lamboley, Liam Slatem, Matthew Rosslee, Salom Yiu Kam-shing, Max Woodward, Jack Neville, Conor Hartley, Jamie Hood, Alexander Post, Adam Fullgrabe, Jack Parfitt, Michael Parfitt, Kane Boucaut, Cris Pierrepont, Jamie Lauder, Max Denmark, Benjamin Roberts and Lex Kaleca.