It’s two weekends of rugby action coming up as Korea face off against Hong Kong and Japan in the Asian Rugby Championship this month.
Eddie Jones may have swapped coaching Japan’s Brave Blossoms for England’s six nation winners, but caretaker coach Ryuji Nakatake has barely missed a step since taking over the reins of the national side. And that is not good news for South Korea’s rugby charges as they look to recover from an 85-0 demolition at the hands of Japan late last month. With home matches against Hong Kong and Japan this month, the Korean rugby fraternity has plenty to prove if it is to attract the wider fan base it needs to develop a sport developing fast across the globe.
Although something of a power on the continent in the 1980s, life in the Asian Rugby Championship has been tough for South Korea over the past few years, with Hong Kong replacing the Koreans as runners-up in a championship that Japan essentially claimed ownership even before its astonishing 3 wins in 4 at the last Rugby World Cup in England.
The three sides in the top division of Asian rugby play each other on a home and away basis every spring in a format changed from the previous five nations incarnation which gave Hong Kong and Korea more matches against sides at the developmental level of the sport. Last year saw over a thousand fans show up for Korea’s match against Japan, when the Korean side put in a creditable show in going down 30-56. Early in the contest, the Koreans had done a lot of the early running and even surprised the Blossoms with two well-taken tries by winger Seong-min Jang. What had initially seemed like building to a promising tournament ended in disappointment though, with a last minute try seeing Hong-Kong beat Korea in a high scoring encounter in Incheon. Needing Japan to beat Hong Kong in the final game to avoid the wooden spoon in the three team top division, the match was abandoned due to bad weather, giving the Hong Kong side the point needed to secure second place in the division.
Now, with a club playing in the Southern Hemisphere’s Rugby Championship yet another sign that Japan is outgrowing Asian rugby, Korea’s chances of success in the Asian Rugby Championship may rest on any future Japanese decision to seek regular international competition elsewhere. Nevertheless, Korea will be desperate to show that the 85-0 loss in Tokyo was not an accurate reflection of rugby on the peninsula, and that fans could do worse than come out to see Korean club sides in action. Taking place at the Namdong Asiad Rugby Field in Incheon – the home of semi-professional outfit Hyundai Glovis – organisers will expect plenty of Korean and expatriate support for the locals in both matches, with more than just a few curious onlookers coming to catch a glimpse of some of the Japanese players who beat South Africa at the last World Cup. Hopefully coach John Walters can instil some kiwi magic in his players as they go some way to banish the ghosts of recent under-performances.
Korea vs. Hong Kong at the Namdong Asiad Rugby Field this May 14 with a noon kick-off.
Korea vs. Japan at the Namdong Asiad Rugby Field this May 21 with a noon kick-off.