Hong Kong produced a superlative performance beating the Cook Islands 51-0 at the Hong Kong Football Club, to follow on from their 26-3 win in Rarotonga last week, for an aggregate score of 77-3 to comfortably qualify for the repechage tournament in France later in the year for the final place in the 2019 Rugby World Cup.
It was a clinal and disciplined performance by Hong Kong, who matched the physicality of their opponents, tactically out-thought them and played quick ball to greater effect. To keep quality opposition tryless over two matches, says much for the defensive qualities on the Hong Kong team, and a sharpness in attack that allowed the scoreboard to keep turning.
Hong Kong began ominously by kicking the ball directly into touch, giving the Cook Islands immediate possession. It was the last error Hong Kong made. Despite the Cooks Islands having the momentum, they could not break the Hong Kong defense. They won a penalty that came back off the upright, and the tackle on fullback Jack Neville, saw him leave the field with concussion, and Jamie Hood replace him.
On 10 minutes, and after good counter-attacking play Hong Kong had worked their way into the Cook Islands 22, and quick ball from the maul to flanker Toby Fenn, created a break and space for winger Salom Yiu Kam-shing to cross in the right-hand corner for the first score of the game. Flyhalf, Matt Rosslee converted, and Hong Kong led 7-0.
On 20 minutes, Rosslee added a penalty goal to stretch the lead to 10-0.
On 24 minutes, the Cook Islands incurred the first of 5 yellow cards throughout the match. The resulting penalty, saw centre Max Woodward cross for Hong Kong’s second try, converted by Rosslee, and the score edge out to 17-0.
At 32 minutes there was drama with an in-air collision between Jamie Hood and Cook Islands winger, Josh Tino mana competing for the ball. Hood was yellow-carded. The Cook Islands still could not break the Hong Kong defense despite a man advantage and the half-time score was 17-0.
In the second-half, Rosslee continued his fine form with the boot by adding another penalty on 47 minutes, and Hong Kong now led 20-0.
On 53 minutes, a quick penalty, by substitute scrumhalf, Jamie Lauder, put Jamie Hood away to sprint 50metres to score, and the successful conversion by Rosslee gave the hosts an unassailable lead 27-0.
Hong Kong’s momentum continued with a try by substitute hooker Alex Post; again, converted by Rosslee. In quick succession, the Cook Islands conceded another yellow-card; Hong Kong added a penalty try; then another yellow card was awarded against the Cook Islands, and Hong Kong plied more misery on the opposition with a drop-goal, by substitute flyhalf Ben Rimene. By 63 minutes, Hong Kong led 44-0. With a two-man advantage Hong Kong eased over for their sixth try, another for Alex Post, and the final score was a thumping victory 51-0 to Hong Kong.
Had the Cook Islands been more disciplined the scoreline may not have been so emphatic, but Hong Kong deserved victory, and out-played their opponents over the two-legs. Hong Kong can now prepare for the repechage. The growth in confidence of the team, with the meticulous match preparation they undergo with Leigh Jones, is evident on- and off-field. They thoroughly deserve a moment to celebrate before more hard work preparing for November. This is a team that not only performs but competes to win.
It was also a fitting way to mark Nick Hewson, a former captain, becoming Hong Kong’s most capped player. He led the team onto the pitch, played solidly for the full minutes, and victory was a just tribute for one the game’s best practitioners in recent years.
Grahame Carder is a sports enthusiast, former player and resident in Hong Kong.