Rugby World Cup 2019: back door to Japan now wide open for Hong Kong men as repechage beckons

If all goes to plan, Hong Kong could be winning their first ever World Cup match a year from now

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 04 October, 2018, 4:27pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 06 October, 2018, 8:14pm

Three wins and they’re in.

That is all it will take for the Hong Kong men’s national squad to secure a birth in next year’s Rugby World Cup in Japan.

The repechage qualifying event in Marseilles, France (November 11-23) is a new concept for the Rugby World Cup, a Hail Mary round-robin tournament for fringe teams to grab the final 20th spot.

What makes this repechage so salivating is Hong Kong may now be the favourites going into the test matches against Germany, Kenya and Canada (in that order) over 13 days.

Here’s why there’s a legitimate chance Hong Kong could punch their ticket to Japan and send the local rugby community into a frenzy.

Hong Kong are the highest ranked squad at 21, followed by Canada (23), Kenya (28) and Germany (29). While international rankings tend to be one step behind actual results, it’s safe to say these are fairly accurate as none of the squads have beaten any marquee teams as of late to merit a big jump.

Let’s start with Germany. These guys will be debuting a new coach in Mike Ford for the tournament, so it’s safe to say they may be slightly disorganised. Germany also finished bottom of last season’s Rugby Europe International Championship, but were promoted to second after Belgium, Spain and Romania were all deducted points for fielding ineligible players.

The sport is still in its infancy in Germany, and the team are probably just happy to make the repechage. About the only thing Germany have going for them is they will barely be changing time zones to compete in France and will not have to deal with jet lag like the other squads.

Kenya are also beatable – simple math tells us this. They lost 53-28 in August to Namibia (ranked 22), who qualified as Africa’s top seed. Kenya’s national programme also seems to be putting more emphasis on the sevens team than the 15-a-side unit.

That leaves a winner-takes-all match against Canada on Friday, November 23, at the 5,000-seat Pierre-Delort Stadium – if all goes according to script, of course. The match is scheduled for 8.30pm local time (2.30am in Hong Kong).

Canada should be the favourites to win the repechage, given that they’ve punched their ticket to the past eight World Cups, but a closer look at their national side and the country’s programme brings up a few question marks.

The sevens team are in a labour dispute with Rugby Canada, as the players have applied for union certification, unhappy with the way the body is broken down.

The players want one centralised player pool between 15s and sevens, rather than having the teams practice separately.

There’s also the issue of money, as the players feel the finances are not being spread around equally.

A lot could happen between now and November, but there’s no way to spin this: infighting is never good for morale, and there is a chance some guys might sit out France in protest if this dispute drags on. Count it as a point for Hong Kong.

As Rugby World Cup seas part for Hong Kong amid qualifying carnage, here’s who remain in the way of Leigh Jones’ men

Meanwhile, in Hong Kong it appears to be the opposite. The national squad look like a fine-tuned machine, with head coach Leigh Jones sending a decisive statement to his players: no-one’s spot is secure for Marseille and unless you perform well during the HKRU Premiership games, you will be replaced.

Hong Kong just one stage away from Rugby World Cup qualification after rare full-capacity stadium treated to Cook Islands demolition

The best chance Hong Kong have for scouting is the Americas Pacific Challenge in Uruguay from October 6 to 14. Canada will face second teams from Uruguay (18th), Argentina (ninth) and Tonga (12th).

To be blunt, if Canada do not get blown out in all three of these games, it does not bode well for Hong Kong.

The kicker to all this is the winner of the repechage gets slotted into a group headed by New Zealand, South Africa and Italy, along with Namibia.

Rugby World Cup: Hong Kong’s ruthless Japan 2019 mission has Canada watching their backs – here’s who they must beat

A lot of things have to fall into place, but around this time next year Hong Kong could be celebrating their first ever win at a Rugby World Cup – against Namibia. It would be a small victory in the grand scheme of things, but a massive step forward for Hong Kong rugby and a defining notch for the national programme’s belt.