Hong Kong claimed the upper hand in its Rugby
world Cup 2019 qualification battle with the Cook Islands on
Sunday after a
comprehensive 26-3 win in the first of a two-match play-off
series. It was the first ever test match between the two teams.
Hong Kong managed to hold the Cook Islands try-less in Rarotonga,
allowing the hosts just a single first-half penalty in what is a huge result for the series, which could ultimately be decided on
aggregate points. Hong Kong now enters their home stand needing to
win outright or avoid a loss by more than 23 points next Saturday, 7 July at Hong Kong Football Club.
“It was an outstanding
performance,” said a delighted Hong Kong coach Leigh Jones after
the match. “I don’t get overly excited about things, but I
think it was a historic day for Hong Kong. Cook Islands brought
everyone back and they have some top quality players in that side
but our performance was just outstanding. It was a tough
game and that was a hell of a win.”
stifling defence held the Cook Islands to a sole penalty in the
first half, an important marker for the return leg and a devastating blow to the Cook Islands’ hopes of advancing to the repechage tournament in France next November.
“Ahead of the
game, we talked about every point being precious, whether we are
giving them away or getting them; so that [holding Cook Islands to
a single penalty] was a great credit to the boys. They wanted to
keep the clean sheet and they did. It was a great performance
and the boys are celebrating now, but if you look at them, they
are also grounded. They know we have to do the same next week,”
Canada have booked their place in the final four
already while Samoa have opened a big lead on Germany in another
bracket. The winner of Hong Kong versus Cook Islands will join
them and the winners of the Africa qualification campaign next
Hong Kong need only to lose by less than 23 points
next Saturday to join the party in France, but Jones is adamant
that his side finish things off with a statement. “We won’t be
satisfied with losing. We want to make sure that we finish the job
off next week,” he said.
Hong Kong shrugged off the 25-hour travel to
the islands and showed no rust from the opening whistle, as they
stormed deep into Cook Islands territory from the kick-off to set
up their first try.
No. 8 Thomas Lamboley crossed the line in
the third minute after a series of well-executed attacking phases
on the hosts try line. Flyhalf Matt Rosslee missed the
conversion attempt, setting a pattern after he missed all four of
Hong Kong’s conversions, but he was more accurate on his penalty
attempts, slotting tough chances on either side of half time to
help maintain Hong Kong’s margin.
Hong Kong furthered its lead
in the 12th minute after Jack Neville took a sneaky reverse pass
from centre Lex Kalecka, who returned from an injury layoff to
shore up the centre pairing. Cutting against the defence
Neville opened up enough daylight to put scrumhalf Liam Slatem
clear in the corner as he crossed over to extend the lead to 10-0
after the missed conversion.
Cook Islands scored their only
points of the game off of a penalty after Nick Hewson was pinged
for sealing off the tackler on the ground. Centre Greg Mullany’s
kick was successful putting the hosts on the board at 10-3 after
Hong Kong returned the favour moments later when
winger Conor Hartley was served a perfect pass by Slatem to stroll
across the tramlines for Hong Kong’s third try and a 15-3 lead.
Rosslee closed out the first half with a successful penalty to
send Hong Kong into the break up 18-3.
Hong Kong regularly
exploited overlaps in the Cook Islands defence in the first half
with all of their tries coming out wide, as the forwards did an
excellent job of penetrating the hosts midfield defence, luring
defenders in from the flanks to create space for Hong Kong’s
The Cook Islands put in an improved showing
in the second half, aided by a swirling wind that hampered Hong
Kong in the final stages.
“You couldn’t see it on TV, but there
was a really strong wind and that was why it looked like it was a
game of two halves,” said Jones. “It was very difficult for us to
get out of our half in the second half, largely because of the
Rosslee added Hong Kong’s first points of the
second half with a second penalty to push the lead to 21-3
Kong added its fourth and final try late in the game after Max
Woodward, who only moments earlier had accounted for a try-saving
tackle, was on hand at the other end to finish off some great
interplay with winger Salom Yiu Kam-shing before crossing over in
the left corner.
Rosslee’s conversion was unsuccessful but
Hong Kong had sealed the crucial away win ahead. Both sides will
have to lick their wounds and get ready to back up again next
“It was a very physical game, we were expecting that.
They are a big, big side and it was a very physical out there. We
have a few battered and bruised, but so have they,” said Jones. “If we are going to get to where we want to get, we have to
cope with opposition and teams like that. Today’s result shows
that we are progressing and are able to cope at that next level. It is a great result for the Union and for Hong Kong Rugby from
top to bottom. We are a really tight organization and that was a
credit to everyone involved. To come here and put 20 odd points on
them with the team they had out there is magnificent. We just need
to make sure we back that up next week.”
sides will now journey back to Hong Kong and Jones is curious to
see what the opposition’s selection will look like.
be interesting to see what their travel party will look like and
whether some of their big names travel, but it will be a similar
approach for us. It’s cup rugby and we don’t need to be too
flamboyant. We just need to do what it says on the tin and play
good solid, percentage rugby,” he said.
Hong Kong will arrive on Tuesday
morning, which with the need for recovery and the long travel
period will limit preparations next week according to Jones.
“Obviously we have to factor the journey in and the recovery
period, so we are probably only going to be able to train once or
twice next week as a group,” said Jones.
But with one injury occurring
before the match even started, (hooker Jamie Tsang was a late
scratch after suffering a neck strain in the warm-up), Jones has
already seen the depth he has carefully nurtured come to the fore
when Alex Post, travelling as back up to a second injured hooker,
Ben Roberts, was forced to start.
The former Hong Kong U20s
captain turned in a performance for the ages in just his second
“Young Postie had to come in after just five or six
training sessions and what an outstanding performance he had. It
was almost seamless. That speaks highly of him and of the
assistant coaches, guys like Craig Hammond have done a great job
in preparing the team this week. The Union as a whole has done
a great job from the coaches and medical and strength and
conditioning team to the players, it was a huge result for Hong
Kong rugby,” Jones remarked.
Pictures from 2018 Cathay Pacific / HSBC Hong Kong Sevens,
Pictures from 2017 Cathay Pacific / HSBC Hong Kong Sevens,
Pictures from 2016 Cathay Pacific / HSBC Hong
Pictures of Cathay Pacific / HSBC Hong Kong Sevens 2015,
Pictures of the Asia Rugby Sevens Olympic Games Qualifier in Hong
Pictures of Singha Thailand Sevens 2015,
Pictures from the 2013 British & Irish Lions Tour in Hong Kong,
Pictures of Hong Kong Sevens 2014,
Pictures of Hong Kong Sevens 2013,
of Chartis Cup 2012 and
Cathay Pacific / HSBC Hong Kong Sevens 2012.