There is one spot left in next year’s World Cup for hopeful qualifiers, to be duked out between Hong Kong, Canada, Kenya and Germany during the autumn window in a round robin tournament held in Marseilles.
Almost inevitably, the unfilled place is in the toughest group of all, Pool B, alongside New Zealand and South Africa, which only makes you marvel all the more at the gung ho approach of Hong Kong’s coach, former Scotland lock Andy Hall.
“We are the top-ranked team although you’d think that Canada will start as favourites,” says Hall, right. “We won a series against Kenya last year but they are very dangerous when the game breaks up and becomes chaotic.
“Germany have a massive, massive pack which they use to good effect but they have recently appointed Mike Ford as head coach.
“Canada have lots of power players across the park and they have some top class players from the Top 14, England and the likes of (DTH) van der Merwe from Glasgow Warriors to bolster their team.”
Hall was part of the Scotland touring squad that lost to Canada in 2002, so he has no illusions. The ginger-haired lock played five years for Glasgow before moving to the Dragons, a smart move as things turned out. His Newport coach Leigh Jones moved to Hong Kong and encouraged Hall to follow when the big lock wanted to make his mark as a coach. He started off with the Hong Kong Cricket Club, in the rugby section obviously, before various opportunities arose in the national set up. Hall is now senior coach, sitting just below his mentor Jones, in charge of the day-to-day running of the elite men’s 15-a-side section where Hong Kong boast approximately 35 full-time professionals in addition to a smaller group of professional sevens’ players.
Scottish scrum-half Jamie Lauder is an outlier, one of just four amateur players in the Hong Kong squad. He has another Scottish rival for the number nine shirt, Jamie Hood, a sevens specialist. The pair are joined by former Boroughmuir lock Finn Field, the 22-year-old earning a place in the elite squad this summer and, at 6ft 6in, one of the “lighthouses” in the squad as Hall would have it.
He may sound western but Field was born and raised in Hong Kong while his team-mate Jamie Hong Man Tsang was born and raised in the English midlands and boasts a Brummy accent. It is probably best to park any preconceptions at the door with perhaps one exception.
Like almost everyone else, Hong Kong do have a few South African “imports” including half-back pairing Matthew Rosslee and Liam Slatem who may, Hall thinks, have had a trial at Glasgow some years back. Oh, and Thomas Lamboley is also there – the former Stade Toulouse player’s brother Gregory earned 14 caps for La France back in the day.
There are plans to extend the World Cup from 20 to 24 teams and while that would suit Hong Kong and Hall it would result in some horribly one-sided matches.
“We are [ranked] 21st in the world so we would potentially be in the frame,” replies Hall. “Our U20s are in the World Trophy, the next level down, so whether a smaller World Trophy at senior level could be run I don’t know?
“I certainly see the benefit to us, at U20s level, being in the next tier down. Rather than expanding [the World Cup] you do a senior World Trophy of maybe 16 teams?”