Hong Kong hold World Cup destiny in their hands – ‘the pressure is on Korea to come and play’
Victory in the Asia Rugby Championship is within reach for Leigh Jones’ men and the coach says they are ‘champing at the bit’
Hong Kong are ready to live up to expectations in the Asia Rugby Championship this weekend against a South Korea side that coach Leigh Jones says is under pressure “to come and play”.
Needing only a bonus point to win the tournament, Hong Kong are in the box seat to progress to the next stage of World Cup 2019 – a home and away series against Cook Islands – but must keep their momentum rolling with a huge year ahead.
“Only a win will do,” said Jones. “The pressure is on Korea to come and play now, so that’s the good thing. That’s what last week [a 91-10 win over Malaysia] was about. But we know it’s going to be a tough game and we need to respect what Korea are about.”
Jones can sense a killer instinct within his squad, praising the players for taking ownership of their destiny.
“It’s been very much player-led and they are really champing at the bit to get at Korea,” he said. “We’re pumped and ready to go for this. The boys have been a pleasure to coach this week. I’ve had very little to do, as have the other coaches.”
— Asia Rugby (@asiarugby) May 27, 2018
Hong Kong are battling injuries to a number of key players, including dynamic backs Ben Rimene and Tyler Spitz, but Jones knows he has more than enough firepower to keep the winning run going.
“We’ve been trying to grow depth for two years for this very reason. It showed last Saturday the benefits of doing that and I’m confident we will see the same this Saturday,” he said.
“We have got some quality players injured, but we have got some quality players coming into replace them.”
After fielding a number of new faces against Malaysia, Jones has turned to a host of old heads for this Saturday’s clash.
@HongKongRugby maintain 100% record in #ARC2018 Top 3 and return to @rugbyworldcup qualification driving seat in the hunt for their first-ever ARC with a 13-try victory over @MalaysiaRugby pic.twitter.com/digVXlrTpP
— Asia Rugby (@asiarugby) May 26, 2018
“We took a few risks last week and blooded a few new guys. We’re going back to a more tried and tested formula this week,” he said.
“It was a great opportunity to rest a few last week so we have a lot of experienced guys coming back into the team.
“After a week off they will be full of beans. [Captain James Cunningham] is rested up and he’s really raring to go, as are [front rowers] Ben Roberts and Dylan Rogers.”
Jones has made 11 changes to his starting 15, with Max Woodward, Thomas Lamboley and Salom Yiu Kam-shing also among the ins.
Seven of those changes come in the forwards and Jones has named an entirely new tight five in preparation for the hefty South Korean pack, with Daniel Barlow joining Roberts and Rogers in the front row and Kyle Sullivan partnering Cunningham in the second row.
The injury to Spitz means Woodward will have a new centre partner in the form of Jack Neville, who impressed Jones against Malaysia.
“He’s got pace, that’s the key at 13 and Jack has certainly got that in abundance so I am confident he will do a good job there,” Jones said.
Hong Kong squad:
Dan Barlow, Ben Roberts, Dylan Rogers, James Cunningham (c), Kyle Sullivan, Nick Hewson, Toby Fenn, Thomas Lamboley, Liam Slatem, Matt Rosslee, Conor Hartley, Max Woodward, Jack Neville, Salom Yiu Kam-shing, Robbie Keith, Jamie Tsang, Adam Fullgrabe, Jack Parfitt, Michael Parfitt, Kane Boucaut, Cris Pierrepont, Jamie Lauder and Max Denmark.