Hong Kong trying not to ‘wander’ as huge year of World Cup qualifying kicks off in Asia Rugby Championship
Leigh Jones’ men travel to Kuala Lumpur to take on Malaysia in the first of four matches to decide who will take on the Cook Islands in the next stage
The start of a huge year in Hong Kong 15s rugby has arrived and coach Leigh Jones admits it is hard not to take a peek at the immense World Cup 2019 qualifying journey that lies ahead.
First things first is Hong Kong’s opening Asia Rugby Championship (ARC) match against Malaysia in Kuala Lumpur on Saturday.
The winner of the ARC – which also features South Korea and sees teams play each other home and away – progresses to a home and away qualifier against the Cook Islands, with the final step of the process a four-team repechage in November.
“You can’t help but wander to the next stages but the guys have been pretty good in keeping themselves grounded,” Jones said.
“They know that there is no future unless we get through these next four games, none of us are looking too far ahead.”
If Hong Kong are serious about progressing deep into qualifying they must start this weekend against a Malaysia team that lost 35-10 to South Korea at the weekend and are only in the tournament because Japan qualify automatically for their home World Cup.
Jones admits Malaysia are something of an unknown, with the greasy conditions created by the heat and humidity of Kuala Lumpur set to add another layer to the clash.
“There is an element of ‘we’re not sure’ but we are going into the game with some good preparation behind us and we’re confident we can perform and cope with anything that Malaysia will throw at us,” he said.
“The conditions where horrendous last weekend in the Korea v Malaysia game and that perhaps gave a false impression of the quality of the players on show.
“It looks as though the conditions will be similar to last week so we will know a lot more after the game in terms of how well we can cope with the conditions and still play some good rugby.
“Fortunately, it didn’t rain but I’m not sure if it did rain it would actually make that much difference to the conditions, the ball is very slippery and very difficult to control.”
Jones is dealing with injuries to forwards Dayne Jans, Jamie Tsang and Kane Boucaut and scrum half Cado Lee Ka-to, meaning the likes of Mike Parfitt, Max Denmark and potential debutant Jamie Lauder will get their chance to impress.
“We have got a number of injuries but we can’t look at that as an excuse, we have got some good depth now,” Jones said.
Jones picked his squad on the back of his side’s match against the Waikato Chiefs development squad two weeks ago, which is part of the New Zealand Super Rugby team’s annual week-long tour to the city.
“It was huge, we picked up a couple of injuries as a result but you have got to push the guys hard,” said Dai Rees, the Hong Kong Rugby Union’s chief rugby operations officer.
“We are firm believers in ensuring we are at the intensity we need to be at as we enter the tournament, we are as well prepared as a group of people could be.”
Hong Kong squad:
Dan Barlow, Ben Roberts, Dylan Rogers, James Cunningham (c), Jamie Pincott, Nick Hewson, Toby Fenn, Thomas Lamboley, Liam Slatem, Matt Rosslee, Max Denmark, Tyler Spitz, Max Woodward, Salom Yiu Kam-shing, Jack Neville, Alex Harris, Adam Fullgrabe, Jack Parfitt, Kyle Sullivan, Mike Parfitt, Jamie Lauder, Robbie Keith and Conor Hartley.