Japan seek to stamp Authority on Asian Five Nations

Asian rugby heavyweights Japan will attempt to stamp their authority on the Asian Five Nations this weekend with victory over the Arabian Gulf, while Hong Kong also aim to maintain their winning start.

Early pacesetters Japan scored seven tries in a 39-17 win over South Korea, Asia’s second-ranked team, in last weekend’s opening round of the inaugural tournament.

Hong Kong, who beat the Arabian Gulf 20-12 in Al Ain in the United Arab Emirates, play Kazakhstan at home on Saturday.

Japan coach, former All Black legend John Kirwan, went into the tournament urging his side to win convincingly to make the world sit up and take notice of Japanese rugby.

Ranked 16 in the world, Japan dominated the first half against the Koreans 29-0 but Kirwan was not satisfied, saying his players had failed to keep their discipline in the second period.

“It is important to do what we should do throughout the 80 minutes,” he said ahead of Saturday’s match in Osaka, according to the Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper.

“We defended poorly and our passing was inaccurate. We want to play with discipline.”

Japan, the only Asian team to qualify for last year’s World Cup in France, have a blend of youth and experience as Kirwan prepares for the Pacific Nations Cup in June and builds toward the next World Cup in New Zealand in 2011.

Hong Kong head coach John Walters said that he expected Kazakhstan, ranked three places below his side, at 32 in the world, to pose a physical challenge, but is confident his team can continue their winning ways.

“Our biggest problem is to get the guys up for their second game in such a short time. It is tough when you play week after week,” he said, according to the South China Morning Post.

“We have been working so long and so hard and all the travel, the jet-lag and the nights away from home take a toll. But we will crank it up this weekend,” he added.

Arabian Gulf forwards coach Steve Holohan warned Hong Kong would struggle, the Post said. “The last time we played them (Kazakhstan), they put 50 points on us,” Holohan said after last Saturday’s opening game.

The standard of rugby in Asia lags far behind countries such as Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and England, but the International Rugby Board sees plenty of potential there, and the Five Nations was launched as a platform to develop and expand the sport across the region.

The tournament is the pinnacle of four newly formed tiers of competition across all 25 Asian rugby unions, with promotion and relegation opportunities between divisions.

The last-placed team in the 2008 Asian Five Nations will be relegated to the 2009 division one competition.

The Arabian Gulf have a home clash against South Korea on May 9.

Sapa-AFP – Rugbyweek.com

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