The Hong Kong Rugby Union men’s national team attracted some unexpected spectators in their match against the Newport Gwent Dragons Development squad earlier this week in Wales. Canada coach Kingsley Jones and Germany coach Mike Ford were both in attendance to get some intel ahead of the final qualification tournament for the world cup later this month in Marseille, France.
Canada, Germany and Kenya are all vying with Hong Kong in the round-robin tournament ahead for the chance to advance as the 20th and final team at Rugby World Cup 2019 in Japan.
Despite the presence of the opposition coaches cramping their style – forcing the visitors to revert to an anodyne match structure, Hong Kong got exactly what it wanted, bar the final result – a last minute 28-24 loss, from a tough warm-up match in frigid Northern European conditions.
Newly eligible Hong Kong payers Lewis Warner, Craig Lodge and Casey Stone were all included in the run-on squad against what was a surprisingly strong Dragons Development team.
“It was the perfect game for us,” said Dai Rees, Chief Rugby Operations officer at the HKRU.
“It wasn’t a Dragons A or development squad, as such, it was Dragons Development but with seven or eight senior players in the squad playing for contracts or coming back from injury, including a couple of Welsh internationals.
“It was also about -4° while we were playing, so immediately everyone was put outside of their comfort zone, which is a big emphasis for us to see how the players react and change for the conditions.
“I know we surprised a few people. The Dragons and their supporters thought that they were going to give us a bit of a thumping ahead of the game, and hopefully everyone is thinking that way.”
It was the first loss for Hong Kong in their last nine outings and a good reminder of the challenges ahead from both opposition and conditions.
Hong Kong were leading 19-7 at the half, but momentum swung to the hosts in the third quarter with Dragons bringing several senior players, including a Welsh international prop, onto the park.
That substitution came at the same time that Hong Kong tight head Dylan Rogers was sidelined with an injury. Absent a second specialist tight head on the bench and facing a front row bolstered by the addition of international quality, Hong Kong’s scrum was put under severe pressure early on, with the visitors conceding numerous penalties and two early tries to start the second half.
Hong Kong improved over the course of the half, re-taking the lead after 70 minutes at 24-21. The early second half struggles combined with an error in the dying minutes showed how quickly results can swing at this level, with a poor touch-finder ending up in the hands of Dragons’ Wales U20s winger, whose counter-attack ended beneath Hong Kong’s sticks to give the Dragons the comeback victory, 28-24.
Hong Kong will face famed Welsh invitational squad Crawshay’s on Friday evening and Rees is expecting a different type of challenge from this group.
“It is a select team. What the Dragons brought to the party for us was obviously their organization because we were not expecting them to have really a settled squad, which they did. We expect Crawshay’s to be a bit more disorganized, because they are a Barbarians style club.
“They won’t play with as much structure we expect, so that creates a good opportunity for us to try and play to some of our game structures. It will be tough and we need it to be tough, but it will be more Baa Baas style rugby.”
Friday night will represent a final chance for head coach Leigh Jones to round out his side ahead of winnowing the squad to 30 men for the tournament in France.
Hong Kong squad v Crawshay’s Invitational ahead of qualification tournament
- Dan BARLOW, 2. Dayne JANS, 3. Grant KEMP, 4. James CUNNINGHAM ©, 5. Jack DELAFORCE, 6. Kane BOUCAUT, 7. Mike COVERDALE, 8. Thomas LAMBOLEY, 9. Bryn PHILLIPS, 10. Matt ROSSLEE, 11. Conor HARTLEY, 12. Ben AXTEN-BURRETT, 13. Tyler SPITZ, 14. Salom YIU Kam-shing, 15. Casey STONE, 16. Ben HIGGINS, 17. Mitch ANDREWS, 18. Jack PARFITT, 19. Mike PARFITT, 20. Finn FIELD, 21. Jamie LAUDER, 22. Jamie HOOD, 23. Lewis WARNER.