Beating Japan a bridge too far as Hong Kong focus on driving home dominance over South Korea
Hosts fall 16-0 to Brave Blossoms in the Asia Rugby Championship as coach Leigh Jones insists his side are going in the right direction
After falling to a Japan side focussed largely on development in the Asia Rugby Championship (ARC) on Saturday, Hong Kong are now faced with renewed pressure ahead of two games against South Korea they are expected to win.
The hosts were again found wanting when the Brave Blossoms turned up the heat at the Hong Kong Football Club, going down 16-0 after trailing 3-0 at the break.
Hong Kong posted two wins against South Korea last year and, after a weekend off, two convincing victories are needed to confirm coach Leigh Jones’ call that his side are ”making significant strides”.
“There is pressure on us now to get some results against Korea,” Jones said. “It’s going to be an interesting game in South Korea in two weeks’ time.
“It’s going to be tough, they’ve improved. They’re in New Zealand now, I think they’ve got three games arranged in New Zealand as we speak.
“They’re investing a lot of money and resources into their World Cup effort so as we improve they are obviously going to improve.”
Hong Kong showed plenty of fight for much of the game but the first 10 minutes of the second half proved costly, with Japan scoring 10 of their points in that period to take the ascendancy.
Despite their solid defensive work, only on rare occasions did Hong Kong look like hitting the scoreboard.
“It really shows our deficiencies in that lack of power and lack of go forward, backed up by a pretty ordinary kicking game,” Jones said.
“I’m disappointed by the game. All credit to Japan, they just strangled us in the second half. We just couldn’t get any territory in the second half to cause a threat.”
Jones said he took solace from the fact that Hong Kong “are going in the right direction”, again praising his front row of props Ben Higgins and Dylan Rogers and hooker Ben Roberts.
“We have gone from having a pretty ordinary set piece to a pretty solid set piece,” Jones said. “I’m proud of all of the lads, they’re giving everything they can.”
Hong Kong oozing a belief never seen by coach Leigh Jones, but common sense key ahead of Japan clash
The win saw Japan secure the ARC and with it their 10th straight Asian title, with coach Jamie Joseph pleased with the application of his young side.
“In terms of skill in the game, [I didn’t see] much [growth] because the conditions were challenging, but in terms of mentality, absolutely,” he said. “Games like this are exactly what we need, last week against Hong Kong was a really tough game.”
Hong Kong were certainly not out of their depth in a dour first half and were the more assertive in the opening quarter, with a couple of unforced errors hindering their progress.
Jamie Hood had the chance to open the scoring for the hosts but his 15th-minute penalty kick fell inches short, with Japan’s Takuya Yamasawa taking that honour with a penalty of his own after 28 minutes.
Yamasawa doubled the Brave Blossoms’ lead minutes into the second half and winger Amanaki Lotoahea crossed soon after as the hosts struggled to find their feet after the break.
Hong Kong stemmed the tide but gave away a number of penalties in the process, with Japan extending their lead to 16 points.
The hosts created a couple of scoring chances late, with Roberts releasing substitute No 8 Thomas Lamboley and Salom Yiu Kam-shing very nearly touching down in the corner, however both efforts fell short.
Earlier, Hong Kong’s women kick-started their selection process for August’s Women’s Rugby World Cup in Ireland with a Super Series match that saw the Lions win 30-3 over the Dragons.
The clash saw 42 hopefuls strut their stuff in a bid to be included in the 26-player squad for Hong Kong’s warm-up tour in Spain later this month.
“Today helped us confirm some of our selections and some new people put their hands up, which is good to see,” coach Jo Hull said.