Hong Kong beat South Korea, comfortably, 39-5, at the Hong Kong Football Club to win their first Asian Rugby Championship and secure the opportunity to play the Cook Islands (home and away) for a place in the repechage tournament to determine the final team to qualify for the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan.
The match was ‘done and dusted’ by half-time. Hong Kong playing with the wind behind them, dominated the first-half. They established a lead of 31-0, with Korea unable to offer anything more than resolute defence. Hong Kong, delivered an exemplary performance, built on the strength of the pack, the game control by scrum-half Liam Slatem and fly-half Matt Rosslee, and clinical finishing by players scoring well-executed tries.
Matt Rosslee, opened the scoring after 6 minutes, with a penalty goal; and followed-up with close-range try under the posts, after Slatem, pressured the Korean defense, off-loaded to Rosslee, who wriggled through two tackles to outstretch and touch down. Rosslee converted his try. By 14 minutes Hong Kong was 10-0 ahead.
Hong Kong continued to pressure Korea. On 23 minutes Slatem crossed for a try, after skilled interplay between the Hong Kong backs. Rosslee again converted, moving the score to 17-0 to Hong Kong.
On 30 minutes, evergreen Hong Kong winger Yiu Kam Shing, crossed for another try. Again, involving sharp play between centre Max Woodward and Slatem, before Yiu clinically finished the move. Rosslee was successful with the conversion. Hong Kong stretched their lead to 24-0.
Korea was getting increasingly frustrated, and prop, Taehyeon Kang was sin-binned. Hong Kong took advantage of the numerical superiority. On 38 minutes, winger Conor Hartley prised open the Korean defense, slipping the ball to Slatem who finished the move for his second try. Unerringly, Rosslee added the conversion. Hong Kong ended the half 31-0 ahead, and Korea wondering if they would ever be in a position to attack.
If the first-half was a sublime performance by Hong Kong, the second-half was not. Korea was more spirited, if at times feisty, and tried to take advantage of the favorable wind. However, it was Hong Kong who scored first with a penalty goal by Rosslee, making it 34-0.
Whilst the match result at this stage seemed inevitable, there was pride at stake. In their first foray into the Hong Kong 22, their captain, Yongseung Lee barreled over for a try. The conversion was missed but Korea was on the scoreboard; 34-5.
By this stage the match had been disrupted by injury, substitutions, water-breaks, overly aggressive tackling and some exchange of ‘handbags’. The fluidity had gone from the game.
Fittingly, Hong Kong finished with a well-worked try by centre Jack Neville to close the match 39-5 for the hosts. A gratifying victory for Hong Kong, despite tapering off in the second-half.
It was a game of two halves: fluid, efficient, dominant and controlled by Hong Kong for the first half. Disrupted, occasionally scrappy, and lacking precision in the second-half. Some credit for which goes to Korea, who were more formidable in the second-half, and fronted-up to Hong Kong, but disruptions in play were mainly responsible for the stop-start nature of the half.
Hong Kong now look forward to playing the Cook Islands, an unknown quantity in Asia. If Hong Kong reproduce their first-half performance against Korea, for both halves against the Cook Islands, then Hong Kong continuing their journey to the Rugby World Cup repechage is a possibility. Match dates are June 30 away and July 7 at home
Meanwhile, Hong Kong are the Asian Rugby Champions and deservedly lay claim to the title this season.
Other photos of the match
Photos by Dan Marchant:
Grahame Carder is a sports enthusiast, former player and resident in Hong Kong.