Hong Kong oozing a belief never seen by coach Leigh Jones, but common sense key ahead of Japan clash
Expectations are rising as improving hosts look to go one better in the Asia Rugby Championship at Hong Kong Football Club
Hong Kong enter Saturday’s clash with Japan at the Hong Kong Football Club armed with a belief never before seen by coach Leigh Jones.
They are looking to go one better on home soil in the Asia Rugby Championship (ARC) after turning in their most impressive display against the Brave Blossoms for the best part of two decades last weekend.
Although it ended in a 29-17 loss, the effort sees Hong Kong with a spring in their step and Jones feels his players are mentally ready.
“I think for the first time during my tenure in Hong Kong, I’ve been here five or six years, the players believe that they can beat this team,” he said.
“Hand on heart, I have never experienced that before. I like where the players are, I think they’re up for the occasion.
“I have said it numerous times, progress is evident and it shows the programme is working, [but] that has got to be tempered with common sense as well.
“We are two years into professionalism, are we ready to back up a consistent level week in, week out? I’m still not sure we’re quite there.”
Hong Kong welcome back Nick Hewson and Alex McQueen among four changes to the starting 15, with the injured Jamie Tsang and Rowan Varty among those missing from last week’s squad.
Ally Maclay and Matt Lamming also come into the starting line-up, while the tight five remains unchanged after achieving a rare parity with their opponents last weekend.
“We have made a couple of changes to freshen it up and bring some new energy in. I just hope we have got the balance right,” Jones said.
“They are going to be wounded, they are going to be an angry team. They have made changes to their front row so there is lots of intriguing games within the game.
“From a coaching perspective it’s quite appetising, quite nerve-wracking, but that’s what the game is about.”
Hewson returns after overcoming a rib injury and is eager to impress after being overlooked for Hong Kong’s final Cup of Nations game against Russia in November.
“I’m looking forward to getting back into and playing another test,” said the 33-year-old. “I was pretty disappointed [to miss out against Russia], but it’s just one of those things you take on the chin.
“I had a good end to the season in the club stuff and I’m hoping to bring that for Hong Kong. Every chance I get to have an impact on the game, I want to have a positive influence.”
It’s been a big week for the Brave Blossoms, with the draw for the 2019 World Cup in Japan attracting plenty of hype.
Coach Jamie Joseph, who has made eight changes to his side, admits a lot of what they are doing now is about the bigger picture, although he doesn’t think his players will lose focus on the job at hand.
“You want to win but for me the tournament is for the development of rugby, bringing the young guys through,” he said.
“Obviously we are preparing for June, we play two tests against Ireland and one against Romania so between the Sunwolves and this team here, the majority of the players will come out of those two sides.”
Joseph is looking for a more balanced effort from his side on Saturday, crediting the improvement of Hong Kong with ensuring the Brave Blossoms still benefit from playing in the ARC.
“Last week they smacked us, they were physical and really took it to us and really made it hard for us to get any momentum and I’m expecting that times two being a home game,” he said.
“We missed a couple of tackles which cost us dearly and we have addressed that as best we can, given it’s only been a week.”
Hong Kong squad:
Ben Higgins, Ben Roberts (c), Dylan Rogers, James Cunningham, Adrian Griffiths, Nick Hewson, Matt Lamming, Dan Falvey, Jamie Hood, Matt Rosslee, Ally Maclay, Lex Kaleca, Tyler Spitz, Salom Yiu Kam-shing, Alex McQueen, JW Markley, Jack Parfitt, Angus Dixon, Kyle Sullivan, Thomas Lamboley, Charles Higson-Smith, Cado Lee Ka-to, Ben Rimene.