Hard-fought loss to Japan means nothing if improving Hong Kong can’t back it up: Leigh Jones
Welshman rues the lack of impact of substitutes as side have their chances in 29-17 Asia Rugby Championship loss in Tokyo on Saturday
Hong Kong earned respect in a hard-fought 29-17 loss to Japan in the Asia Rugby Championship on Saturday, but coach Leigh Jones knows it will amount to nothing if they can’t back it up at home next weekend.
The visitors were impressive for three quarters in Tokyo and led 17-12 after 56 minutes, with a frustrated Jones ruing the lack of impact of his substitutions.
And in a mark of Jones’ increasing expectation, the Welshman took little solace from his side’s fighting performance.
“I think we earned their respect today, [but] an odd performance like this means nothing,” Jones said. “We have to show every time we take the pitch that we are continuing to grow. The boys will no doubt be confident, but what is important is we have to back up.
“I’m annoyed mostly with myself, it will come to down to poor substitutions at the end of the day.
“The timing of the substitutions was correct, I just didn’t expect some of those guys to come on and capitulate in the way they did.
“It was all down to the last 20 minutes. From memory we were up with 20 minutes to go and it was the right time to make some substitutions. I talk a lot about subs adding value, but they certainly didn’t add value for us today.”
Prop Dylan Rogers was a shining light on debut as the Hong Kong forwards outplayed the Japan pack for much of the game, before losing shape in the closing stages.
“I think Dylan deserves special attention, along with the other front row guys,” Jones said. “That’s the first time we’ve had a solid platform for probably three or four seasons so I think it is a huge stride forward.
“Japan would have looked to target our scrum, I’m sure they did, and it held up very well. I thought our line-out was pretty good for 60 minutes as well.”
Hong Kong were forced to dig deep after Japan shot out of the blocks with a second-minute try to back-rower Shuhei Matsuhashi.
New blood will boost Hong Kong’s ‘X-factor’ as they face Japan in Asia Rugby Championship, says Leigh Jones
The visitors worked hard to earn possession and used their kicking game to gain territory, with their hard work rewarded with a close-in penalty which Jamie Hood slotted to make the score 7-3.
Hong Kong continued to impress as the first half wore on, with a yellow card to Japan lock Samuela Anise helping their cause.
They gained the ascendancy in the scrum before pulling off a slick set play from a line-out, with Matt Rosslee releasing Salom Yiu Kam-shing for a brilliant try.
Japan again fielded plenty of young players but were also strengthened by the experience of Shokei Kin and Shota Horie, with an error-ridden first half robbing the hosts of any drive.
But with fullback Ryuji Noguchi pulling the strings, the Brave Blossoms opened up Hong Kong’s defence in the 39th minute and dangerous winger Akihito Yamada crossed to give his side a 12-10 half-time lead.
Hong Kong were in the thick of it again after the break and had their chances to score in the opening 10 minutes, while Japan were willing to take risks to create opportunities.
This, coupled with more unforced errors from the hosts, saw Hong Kong regain the lead, with fly half Rosslee sending centre Tyler Spitz over.
Hood kicked truly to make it 17-12, before Yamada again found the line after Rowan Varty lost the ball in a tackle to leave it all square.
Late tries to Horie and Harumichi Tatekawa saw Japan home, although Jones knows his side’s impressive performance will ensure the Brave Blossoms are not caught napping again.
“I think it is probably going to be a far tougher game next week, which is what we want,” Jones said.
“It is quite apparent we are making significant strides, I think that was evident against the Chiefs [development side] and it was evident again today, but it was a game we could have won.”