PATH TO RWC 2023 LEADS HONG KONG TO FINAL QUALIFICATION TOURNAMENT IN DUBAI
On Sunday morning, the Hong Kong Men’s XV woke up, perhaps without a spot secured at Rugby World Cup 2023 after a tough but dignified loss to Tonga, but they earned the respect of many rugby pundits for their display on the Sunshine Coast, and more importantly, a second opportunity to qualify for the biggest event in the men’s XVs game.
The 44-22 defeat to worthy winners over the weekend was predominantly down to the side unable to match the powerhouse Tongans up front, with the Pacific Islander's brute strength and experience at the top end of the game securing set play dominance. The Hong Kong pack did as well as they could but ultimately the lack of playing time and desperately few games together proved a hurdle too many for a team that has overcome so much on this path to RWC 2023, which is thankfully still alive and kicking. The positive and determined attitude from all of the players was visible for all to see on Saturday, as they flung themselves into a physical contest. Their character was epitomised by the last 10-minute period of the game in which Hong Kong scored two excellent tries, and their resilience and self-belief (two mantras of this campaign) were justly rewarded. Current England men’s coach Eddie Jones was in attendance at the Sunshine Coast Stadium and was overheard on the live broadcast saying that it was the best Hong Kong side he had seen, which will help boost the confidence of this young squad and coaching staff, especially Welshman Lewis Evans who has coached the team very well over the two games under difficult circumstances. Evans said after the loss to Tonga, “It has been an absolute pleasure to lead these people over a tough 8-week campaign; physically, mentally and logistically in South Korea and then on to Australia to play in a World Cup Qualifying match. Getting this special group of people together was difficult but the adaptability and positivity that the management and players displayed off the pitch certainly helped us when times got tough in Korea on the pitch. This amazing win has given us the opportunity to continue this journey to a World Cup by competing against a quality Tongan side on the Sunshine Coast, and now takes us onto a repechage in November.” The sentiments were echoed by captain Josh Hrstich who added, “We threw the kitchen sink at it and I can’t wait to take the next step together at the repechage. We will go back to Hong Kong now and assess, and beg our bosses and spouses and partners for more time off. We are massively appreciative of our support back in Hong Kong and can’t wait to get back to all of you.”
Final Qualification Tournament - November 2022
As the squad makes its way back home, they already have to turn their attention to the final qualification tournament. There will be four teams in the event which is due to take place in Dubai, UAE from 6-18 November 2022, and the winner of the last-chance round-robin tournament will secure the final 20th team ticket for France 2023. Asia Rugby President Qais A. Al Dhalai added “Asia Rugby can hold its head high today with an Asian performance that proved to be competitive against a fully professional side. We will work closely with Hong Kong Rugby to get every possible preparation ahead of the final repechage to be held during November 2022 in Dubai.”
The repechage event features four teams from across Africa, Asia/Pacific, the Americas and Europe: USA, Portugal, Hong Kong, & Kenya.
While Hong Kong is ranked 21st in the world and is seeking their first Rugby World Cup appearance, the USA suffered narrow defeats to Uruguay and Chile and is the highest-ranked team of the four at 19th in the world. They also previously played a similar repechage format to gain entry to RWC 2003, and have appeared in every World Cup except 1995. Portugal is ranked just behind the USA at 20th in the world and the Os Lobos have made it once to the Rugby World Cup, in 2007. The lowest-ranked of the four teams is Kenya at 33rd in the world and they made the final qualification tournament after being defeated by Namibia in the Africa Cup. The Simbas featured at the Repechage tournament before RWC 2019 with Hong Kong, Canada, and Germany, and have also never qualified for a World Cup.
The tournament will be played over three match days in November (6th, 12th, 18th) and the team who accrues the most competition points will gain the final spot in Pool C at RWC 2023 alongside Wales, Australia, Fiji, and Georgia at #RWC2023.
Information and Photo Source : Hong Kong Rugby Union