IT’S a glitzy weekend for rugby, but while the drool-factor of Scotland versus Fiji and England versus New Zealand might be an off-the-scale high, these matches, other than boosting or denting national pride ahead of next year’s World Cup, don’t really matter.
Not all of this weekend’s action, however, falls into this category. In a relatively unknown stadium in the French Mediterranean city of Marseille, four nations – Germany, Kenya, Canada and Hong Kong – will be contesting for the one remaining place in the rugby’s global competition in Japan next autumn. In other words: real rugby.
The ‘prize’ for the winner of the World Cup Repechage will be the privilege of joining New Zealand, South Africa, Italy and Namibia in Pool B of of the 2019 global tournament.
While we might not know much about Germany, or indeed Kenya, we do know something about Hong Kong, whose assistant coach is former Glasgow pro, Andrew Hall. Additionally there are three Scotland players in the Hong Kong squad: the former North Berwick High School and Edinburgh Under-18 scrum-half Jamie Lauder; fellow half-back and former Stewart’s-Melville star Jamie Hood; and Hong Kong-born Scot Finn Field, who has played for Boroughmuir and Edinburgh University.
First up for Hong Kong is Germany. Now, they may not have the same cache as their soccer cousins but the Germans have shown a bit of flair on the European Sevens circuit. Having said that, they owe their presence in the repechage to luck more than playing ability after the two front-runners Spain and Romania were thrown out of the European leg of the World Cup qualifying process after being found to have fielded ineligible players.
With these two gone, the third finisher in the European qualifying tournament, Germany, ‘secured’ their place in the repechage. Germany should provide Hong Kong with an undemanding opening round match in Marseilles on Sunday but thereafter it gets tougher for the former offshore Chinese terriotry, with Kenya to face and then a final game against co-favourites Canada.
Hong Kong have a squad of 35 and spent a week in South Wales acclimatising before moving out to France. “We used our time in Wales to get used to European conditions,” said Lauder. “We played the Dragons and lost narrowly in conditions we weren’t used to. We actually led them 21-7 at half-time but their superior fitness and knowledge of how to play these conditions won in the end. But in our second game we beat Crawshays.”
So, what is known about Germany?
“We certainly know that their coach Mike Ford [father of England player George Ford], was down watching us when we played the Dragons. They have a big pack and will be physical,” noted Lauder.
In the other repechage game on Sunday, Canada play Kenya, which will bring together two countries, who have established themselves on the World Rugby Sevens Series. Canada, ranked one place below Hong Kong, succumbed easily to Scotland during the Scots’ summer tour but should be too strong for a Kenya side still getting to grips with the fifteens game.
“But they are big physical athletes,” warns Lauder, with the Scots’ second game in mind.
That, however, is a worry for the second weekend of the repechage. This Sunday it is Germany and for Lauder and co the focus is on securing a first round win in their bid to reach the World Cup. The Stade Delort in Marseille awaits.
Repechage fixtures –
11 November 2018: Hong Kong v Germany and Canada v Kenya
17 November 2018: Hong Kong v Kenya and Canada v Germany
23 November 2018: Kenya v Germany and Hong Kong v Canada