x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Asian Five Nations swan-song as the top two sides clash in Tokyo

The five-team competition will be abandoned from next year in favour of a new event, which will see the three leading Asian nations play each other home and away, writes Paul Radley.

Japan's Shoji Ito, right, challenges UAE's George Perkins, left, and Eddie Talbot during their Asian Five Nations rugby match at the Sevens stadium in Dubai. AFP PHOTO/KARIM SAHIB
Japan's Shoji Ito, right, challenges UAE's George Perkins, left, and Eddie Talbot during their Asian Five Nations rugby match at the Sevens stadium in Dubai. AFP PHOTO/KARIM SAHIB

Japan and Hong Kong will play Sunday in the final Asian Five Nations fixture before the competition is consigned to the archives, knowing a place in next year’s World Cup awaits the winner.

The five-team competition will be abandoned from next year in favour of a new event, which will see the three leading Asian nations play each other home and away.

The chances of Hong Kong beating Japan to Asia’s lone guaranteed World Cup spot today are small.

But the fact they are established as one of the continent’s top two nations shows how much they have benefited from the seven editions of the Five Nations.

The competition was largely the brainchild of the Hong Kong union and they were the major drivers behind getting the main sponsors HSBC on board to bankroll it.

Although it is debatable whether the Five Nations has delivered on the stated aim of raising standards across the continent, Hong Kong have undoubtedly thrived.

They have advanced past South Korea, who were Japan’s nearest rivals back in 2008, to the point where Japan will have to make an effort against them today.

“We are going into our last qualifying match very respectful of Hong Kong but also confident that we can play good rugby,” said Eddie Jones, the Japan coach.

“While playing attractive rugby is a goal, the most important thing is to win and make sure we qualify for the World Cup.”

Dai Rees, Hong Kong’s head of technical development and performance, said his side believe they can compete with Asian rugby’s superpower side in Tokyo.

“There is no pressure on us because everybody expects us not to win, but there is an expectation and confidence within the players,” Rees said.

The match will be streamed live at www.rugbyworldcup.com

pradley@thenational.ae

Follow our sports coverage on twitter at @SprtNationalUAE