HSBC Asian 5 Nations week 2 pits Hong Kong v red-hot Japan while UAE hosts South Korea on its 2013 debut
[Hong Kong, April 26 2013]: The HSBC Asian 5 Nations (HSBC A5N) opens the second week of the five-team, five-week competition tonight as UAE host South Korea in Al Ain (17.00 UAE time) while Hong Kong hosts red-hot Japan on Saturday (April 27) at the Hong Kong Football Club (16.00 Hong Kong time).
Japan head coach Eddie Jones has not unsurprisingly tinkered little with the side that beat the Philippines 121-0 last week. Jones named a 23-man squad that shows just three changes and one positional switch from the side that set an HSBC A5N scoring record in Fukuoka last weekend.
The lone change in the backs sees Yuta Imamura come in for Hirotoki Onozawa, who limped out of last week's game and the rest of the tournament with a leg injury. Jones said Imamura had impressed in training and with Kenki Fukuoka - who marked his debut last week with two tries - nursing a tender hamstring, his experience earned him the nod ahead of Yoshikazu Fujita.
Fujita, who will start the game on the bench, scored six tries on his debut last year against the United Arab Emirates before missing the rest of the international season and the 2012-13 domestic season with a knee injury. Fujita was named the 2012 HSBC A5N Emerging Player of the Year last season for his remarkable debut prior to his injury.
Recently, Fujita toured Australia and New Zealand with Junior Japan and Jones thinks he is now has a better understanding of what is needed to play international rugby.
"He either started or came off the bench for most of Junior Japan's recent games and has worked pretty hard the last couple of weeks," said Jones.
In the pack, Takeshi Kizu comes into the starting XV, having missed last week's game, while Hendrik Tui is promoted from the bench.
"Kizu wasn't quite right to go last week," Jones said. "We wanted to give him an extra week as he gives us extra size and is very robust around the ruck, which will be useful.”
Tui and Ryu Koliniasi Holani swap roles with Jones stressing that Holani did well last week, but he just wants to give Tui more playing time. "Koli played very well last week and will come off the bench. Tui wasn't 100 percent last week but he needs time in that position," Jones explained.
The move also means Takashi Kikutani moves from flanker to his preferred position of No. 8. Jones said he was pleased with the way his side started the tournament last week, especially given the weather, but added he was looking for an improvement this week particularly in terms of physicality.
"Given the conditions last week, we played really well and it showed how hard the players have been working," he said. "We looked much better than we did in our opener last year and in the second half moved the ball really well."
With Japan rapidly achieving mid-season form, damage limitation may be the number one priority for Hong Kong. The home team readily admitted that the fully professional Japan Brave Blossoms were in a class of their own and that stopping Japan for the first time in the five-year history of the tournament would be difficult.
“It is hugely important for the players to pit themselves against the best in Asia which is Japan. But as a fully professional team, they are at a different level to us and I’m not sure the playing field is really level at this moment,” said Hong Kong head coach Leigh Jones.
Japan has piled on half-century scores over Hong Kong on all but one occasion in the last five years – the closest game being a 45-22 result in 2011. Hong Kong captain Tom McColl has set his sights on emulating that feat, which also came at the Hong Kong Football Club, while hoping his side can go one better and compete for the full game, instead of only the second half as they did two years ago.
In 2011, Japan led Hong Kong 31-3 at the break but a revitalised home team came fighting back after the break to outscore the visitors by three tries to two to finish on 45-22 and proud losers.
“The aim is to put in an 80-minute performance,” said McColl. “If we can come away having accomplished our own targets and processes, I will be happy. We have set our own benchmark and if we come anywhere close to that, the score will take care of itself.”
It is almost a mission impossible for Hong Kong who will be missing all of its sevens players currently preparing for the London Sevens and Hong Kong’s bid to become a core team on the IRB Sevens World Series.
Backline problems have been exacerbated by the absence of fly-half Chris McAdam who has been ruled out of the competition after breaking his ribs in Hong Kong’s 53-7 victory over the United Arab Emirates last Saturday. This will push Niall Rowark into the limelight and he will team up with Peter McKee as Hong Kong field a new halves combination against Japan.
“The thing about world rugby is that it throws up players through injuries. Niall has been given the chance and it is up to him to grasp this opportunity,” said Leigh Jones.
But the loss of McAdam, whose strength, apart from his accuracy with his left foot, was his tackling, will be felt as Hong Kong try to stop Japan’s try-scoring machine which ran in 18 tries against the Philippines.
Hong Kong have also made a few tactical changes, mainly up-front, which coach Jones said was implemented to make the forwards more mobile and to be able to contest the breakdown which they failed to do consistently against the UAE.
“We are looking for more consistency. Last week we had some good moments and some ordinary moments. We will have to be at our best as we test ourselves against the best in Asia,” Jones added.
The Brave Blossoms are only scratching the surface of a 10-tests in 10-weeks schedule but are cagey enough not to look past Hong Kong - especially at home.
“I was reasonably satisfied against the Philippines but obviously the opposition was not quite at the same level. We are expecting a physical challenge from Hong Kong whom we respect greatly. We will have to do the hard yards,” Japan’s Jones said.
Japan captain and winger Toshiaki Hirose added: “Two years ago we didn’t play well in the second half against Hong Kong and we have come back this time determined to play 80 minutes of rugby. This is the most important game for us in the A5N.”
Hirose’s estimation could be radically altered by the results of tonight’s match in Al Ain as the hosts UAE look to regroup after their 53-7 loss to Hong Kong last week against a well-stocked South Korean XV that includes 11 players with Top League experience in Japan.
South Korea are fielding a strong side on their HSBC A5N 2013 debut with 11 of their Japan-based professional players in the wider squad. Eight Top League (Japan’s professional league) players are included in the 23 against the UAE. Coach Park Ki-haeng has gone for his big men with the front row consisting of Top league stars Kim Kwang-sik (NEC), Park Sung Ku (Kubota) and Heo Woong (NTT-Docomo).
Behind the front row, Top League veterans Youn Kwon-woo (Yokogawa) and Panasonic’s You Young Nam (who captains the side for the first time in an A5N encounter from flanker) add further weight and nous as Korea aims to nullify the UAE’s traditional forward pack strength. The backline is made up mostly of domestic-based players with Top League scrumhalf Yang Young Hun (Honda) and Lim Jae Beom (Samsung) ready in the reserves.
In response, the UAE have put forward its strongest team yet in this year’s competition. Duncan Hall, UAE Rugby Performance Manager and National Coach hailed a positive performance by his team in the opening round, despite their loss.
“Although the scoreboard doesn’t reflect the effort in the opening round, the players put in a positive and confident performance. A number of combinations we have worked on were executed successfully. We achieved a number of turnovers, our defence was strong and our scrums were dominant. Ultimately, our respective fitness levels came into play in the final quarter of the game where, unfortunately Hong Kong held the upper hand,” added Hall.
With Friday’s game being played at home Hall has the benefit of selecting from an almost full complement of players, and remains optimistic with his goal of a win over the Korean side.
“A number of our key players were either unavailable for travel against Hong Kong or recovering from injury so to have a complement of over 90% to draw from for Korea is an advantage. We successfully challenged Hong Kong on a number of fronts. This building experience was invaluable as we move ahead in this year’s campaign. We believe we can put in a strong performance against Korea.”
Notable changes in the UAE team are the inclusion of Al Ain Amblers player Ross Combe, Harry Woods, Sean Hurley and the return of Renier Els as Captain, who step in at the expense of David Knight, Gareth Armstrong, Kenny Munier and James Ham (due to injury).
UAE v South Korea (April 26, Al Ain RFC, kick-off 17.00 local time)
Hong Kong v Japan (27 April, Hong Kong Football Club, kick-off 16.00 local time)
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