Hong Kong must maintain edge over South Korea with Rugby World Cup qualifying on the horizon
Away Asia Rugby Championship fixture gives Leigh Jones’ side the perfect opportunity to strengthen their claims as the region’s second best side
World Cup qualifying might not officially start until next year, but Hong Kong must use Saturday’s Asia Rugby Championship clash with South Korea to further the mental edge they developed last year.
Two wins from two matches against the Koreans in 2016 – including a convincing 41-15 win at home – saw Hong Kong strengthen their position as Asia’s second-best side.
With number one Japan already qualified as hosts, the Koreans are the biggest hurdle Hong Kong must overcome if they are to progress from the Asian phase of qualifying.
Even that would be only the smallest of steps towards competing in the game’s biggest tournament, but one Hong Kong can make a little easier with victory in Yesan on Saturday.
“Korea is a hard place to go and play, we know that,” Hong Kong assistant coach Craig Hammond said.
“They have got a big forward pack and their set piece is pretty crucial to them and they love to throw the ball around.
“It is about making sure we control our ball when we have it and if we do turn the ball over, it’s about how we shut them down because they love to take the chaos approach and a lot of their tries come from that.”
Hong Kong will enter the clash under the pressure that comes with being expected to win and adding to that is that South Korea sit a point ahead of them in the ARC after pinching a bonus point against series winners Japan.
Making the task even more difficult is the trip to Yesan – which Hammond described as “miles away” from the usual venue in Incheon.
“It’s a new environment for us,” he said. “What we don’t want to do is put ourselves in a bad situation going into next week where we must win with a bonus point. If we get a win going into a home game next week, it will be all on the line.”
The team for Saturday’s clash will be much the same as the one that turned out against Japan at Hong Kong Football Club two weeks ago, with only No 8 Thomas Lamboley and scrum half Cado Lee Ka-to coming into the starting 15.
Alex McQueen is out with a calf strain – replaced at full back by Jamie Hood – while Dan Falvey has remained at home with his expecting wife.
“Thomas [Lamboley] has been really impressive the last couple of games off the bench so it’s a good opportunity to see how he goes in the starting position,” Hammond said.
“Cado comes into nine, he looked pretty lively in the last game against Japan, which is what we are going to need straight away against Korea.”
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Hammond is expecting an improved South Korea, who have just returned from a tour of New Zealand that saw them take on battle-hardened Mitre 10 Cup sides.
“We talk about cutting out those really minor mistakes and being really good at the little mundane jobs as part of your core role,” he said. “We have been really focusing on the little things during the last couple of weeks.”