Mon, 21 Aug 2017

Rugby: Hong Kong Draw with Kenya in First Test

Kenya fought back from a 14-0 deficit to draw with Hong Kong, 19-19, in the opening match of the two-test series in Nairobi on Sunday.

 Both sides blooded a number of new players, Kenya having made 17 changes to the squad since its last outing in the Africa Gold Cup earlier this summer, but Hong Kong had the more cohesive performance asking early questions of the Kenyan defence as they jumped out to a 14-0 lead after just 13 minutes.

The visitors’ stranglehold on the lead was helped by the loss of Kenya’s first-choice flyhalf Biko Adema to an ankle injury early on in the proceedings with Kenny Andola coming on as a replacement in the fifth minute before struggling to a two-for-five performance with the boot.

Hong Kong Lock Kyle Sullivan trying to slow the Kenyan attack. Click to enlarge.

Prop Jack Parfitt opened the scoring with a try in the seventh minute with flyhalf Matt Rosslee’s conversion pushing the margin to 7-0, before centre Tyler Spitz added to the tally with a try in the 12th minute. Rosslee’s successful conversion gave Hong Kong a 14-0 lead.

Captain George Nyambua replied for Kenya with a try in the 19th minute finishing a good period of possession by the Kenyan pack. Andola slotted the conversion to narrow the margin to 14-7 but missed a drop goal attempt later in the half that would have further narrowed the gap.

Further complicating matters for the hosts, centre Patrice Agunda was sent to the sin-bin late in the half, but Hong Kong was unable to convert the opportunity into points with Robbie Keith’s penalty attempt off-target.

Neither side could shake the other for much of the match, but buoyed by a 5,000 strong crowd at the RFUEA Ground in Nairobi, the hosts took advantage of their opportunities out wide, putting winger Alex Olaba, also making his international debut, over late in the half.

Olaba’s try came off of a blind-side charge started by captain Nyambau. Andola’s conversion attempt was unsuccessful, leaving Kenya two points adrift of the lead heading into half-time (14-12).

Shortly after the break, Hong Kong widened its lead after scrumhalf Liam Slatem scored on his international debut, pushing Hong Kong’s margin to 19-12 after Rosslee’s conversion attempt missed. Slatem showed good awareness when he pounced on a loose ball at the breakdown and raced 50-metres for the try.

After Slatem’s try, coach Leigh Jones turned to his bench, bringing on Alex Ng Wai-shing in place of try-scorer Parfitt. Ng marked his 50th cap, further extending his record number of caps for Hong Kong, post-1997.

Kenya had another chance to take the lead after referee Egon Seconds awarded the hosts a penalty in striking distance but Andola’s kick was again off-target.

The frenetic Kenyans broke through in the 63rd minute after right winger Dennis Muhanji delighted the 5,000-strong crowd at the RFUEA Ground bringing the hosts to within two points.

Despite a rough two-for-five outing with the boot, Andola slotted the one conversion that counted levelling the scores with 18 minutes remaining.

Both sides threw everything they had into the attack in the final quarter but neither team was able to add to the totals leaving the test match drawn at full-time.

Five players earned first caps for Hong Kong in the outing, try-scorers Purvis and Slatem, fullback Liam Gallaher, prop Dan Barlow and loose forward Pierce Mackinlay-West. Liam Owens and James Christie were not used off the bench.

The two sides will meet again on Saturday, 26 August, in the second test.

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