‘Now for the two most important games in Hong Kong rugby history’: Classy win over South Korea edges Leigh Jones’ men one step closer to 2019 World Cup
Hong Kong to ‘go into the dark’ against faraway Cook Islands after win over Korea puts them into repechage play-off
Hong Kong were crowned the 2018 Asia Rugby Champions after a convincing 39-5 win over South Korea on Saturday evening, securing regional qualification and earning the Asia/Oceania repechage World Cup play-off place against Cook Islands later this month.
Leigh Jones’ men played a near-faultless first half at a sweltering Hong Kong Football Club and appeared to take the gas off the pedal in the second.
“It was the most clinical first half I’ve seen in a very long time,” said a delighted Jones, asking for sympathy for the players’ second-half performance after “a tough day in the office for both teams”.
“Everything we did in training turned up on the pitch – we went in at half-time and everything was pretty much done.
“I kind of guessed the second half was going to get messy. It doesn’t matter what you say to the guys; they know the job is done. I thought it was an absolutely outstanding performance and speaks volumes to everyone involved,” he added.
A solid kicking game from fly-half Matthew Roslee and tries from Liam Slatem, Roslee, Salom Yu Kam-shing and Jamie Lauder secured one of Hong Kong’s strongest results against the Koreans as they turn their attention to the away and home series against Cook Islands on June 30 and July 7, respectively.
“We’re not looking past the Cook Islands,” said Jones, adding that the squad is making tentative preparations for the staggering 18-hour time difference. “They are the two most important games in Hong Kong rugby history and we will approach [them] in exactly the same vein.
Full time! What a game! HK take the win 39-5 over South Korea. pic.twitter.com/w9fKGjHtW3
— HKRU (@HongKongRugby) June 2, 2018
“We’re going into the dark with Cook Islands. We know very little about them so we have to do our research and see how we prepare.”
With a home return leg beckoning soon after, Jones and staff will try not to over-acclimatise their body clocks to South Pacific time.
“We’re going to get in and out [of the Islands] because whatever acclimatisation we do, we’ve got to return to Hong Kong a week later,” he said. “It’ll be at 3pm kick-off [Cook Islands time] so 9am Hong Kong time – it’s another new and interesting challenge.”
Hong Kong fielded a more experienced side than last week’s 91-10 destruction of Malaysia but much of the squad was forced to sit out through injury. Hooker Ben Roberts may also face time out after limping off against Korea.
“I think Ben has a ripped cartilage – that’s a sticky one,” said Jones. “Sometimes it can take two weeks, sometimes six weeks.”
Jones hopes to see “eight to 10” of his injured players back in training after a much-deserved week’s rest.
“As you saw we probably had another team sat in the stand injured, but hopefully they’ll be ready for the selection for Cook Islands,” said Jones. “[Selection] is going to be difficult but it’s a nice problem to have – we need more of those problems.”
A win over Cook Islands would put Hong Kong in the four-team repechage competition, just one stage away from World Cup qualification. Hosts Japan have automatically qualified for the tournament.