Rugby World Cup: Hong Kong’s ruthless Japan 2019 mission has Canada watching their backs – here’s who they must beat
Leigh Jones’ side are set to be the highest-ranked team in November’s repechage after demolishing the Cook Islands – can they make it to Japan 2019?
While Hong Kong’s demolition of the Cook Islands hasn’t exactly sent shock waves through the global rugby community, it certainly hasn’t gone unnoticed as Rugby World Cup 2019 qualifying edges closer to conclusion.
Hong Kong emphatically joined Canada in November’s repechage – the last stage of qualifying – with an aggregate 77-3 pummelling of the South Pacific islanders.
The series was somewhat of an unknown for Hong Kong going in and that uncertainty has remained, but now it is the Canadians sounding unsure as they try to map out how likely they are to make it to Japan.
The Vancouver Sun decried the “brutal form” that has seen Canada slip below Hong Kong in the world rankings – 21 v 22 – and noted the “fragile” Canadians are anything but a sure thing come November.
Check out the best of the action from Hong Kong as @HongKongRugby secured their spot in November's repechage: a four-team tournament to decide who will take the final spot at #RWC2019 pic.twitter.com/xLAQihKSLI
— World Rugby (@WorldRugby) July 9, 2018
They have been struggling for some time and lost 43-20 to Russia in June, a team who only qualified for the World Cup because Romania and Spain were disqualified for fielding ineligible players.
In Hong Kong’s last outing against Russia in the Cup of Nations last November, they lost only 16-13.
Canada do have a trump card in towering lock Tyler Ardron, who has impressed for the Chiefs in Super Rugby this season and missed the June tests due to concussion and a virus.
Canada also recently took measures to top up their World Cup money bank, increasing fees for youth players to raise an extra C$450,000 [HK$2.73 million] in a last-gasp effort to the get their team over the line.
However, the once-fanciful notion of Hong Kong qualifying for their first World Cup is becoming more believable by the day.
You would have been laughed out of the room if you’d said 12 months ago that Hong Kong would head to France as favourites for a repechage featuring a Canada team that has played in all eight World Cups, but, if the odds were built around the rankings, they would.
Hong Kong’s other two opponents in November’s fight to the death are all but decided, with Germany set to become the third team to qualify for the repechage this weekend.
They lost 66-15 to Samoa in the opening leg of their two-match series, all but ensuring the Samoans will secure their place in pool A for Japan and the 29th-ranked Germans will be bound for France after Saturday’s second match.
That leaves only a team from Africa to join the party and as the Rugby Africa Gold Cup unfolds, it looks very much like Namibia will win that tournament and secure direct passage to Japan, leaving second-placed Kenya to fall into the repechage.
Hong Kong have beaten the 28th-ranked Kenyans in the last two meetings between the sides, adding further weight to the hopes of Leigh Jones’ men.
And as the Hong Kong fifteens side pass the baton to the territory’s sevens players ahead of next weekend’s Rugby World Cup Sevens in San Francisco, they do so in the knowledge that they too are within reach of their chance to play on the world stage.
Who would have thought.