Hong Kong create history with Korean win

(RUGBY WORLD CUP) Saturday 10 May 2014
Hong Kong create history with Korean win
Jake Phelps went from villain to hero for Hong Kong in their victory over Korea - Photo: ARFU

Hong Kong have ensured their bid to qualify for Rugby World Cup 2015 remains on course with a convincing 39-6 win over Korea in the Asian 5 Nations, but captain Nick Hewson insists his side are not prepared to simply accept the place in the Repechage.

The five-try victory was built around a strong defensive effort at the Hong Kong Football Club and means Hong Kong have a perfect record of 18 points from three matches in the Asian 5 Nations, which doubles as the region’s final qualification process for RWC 2015.

Hong Kong’s remaining match is against Japan in Tokyo on 25 May with the winner qualifying for England 2015 as Asia 1 to join South Africa, Samoa, Scotland and USA in Pool B and the loser setting up a meeting with Uruguay in the first stage of the Repechage.

“Our dream is alive,” said Hewson. “We have booked the Repechage spot for Asia but that is not enough. For certain we will have a crack at Japan in our final game.”

The size of that challenge will not have escaped Hewson and his Hong Kong teammates after Japan ran out emphatic 132-10 winners over Sri Lanka at the Nagoya Municipal Mizuho Rugby Ground earlier on Saturday.

Korea had actually begun the match against Hong Kong strongly with the home side losing centre Jake Phelps to the sin-bin for a high tackle in the first minute. They took time to settle and Korea capitalised with two penalties by fly half Oh Youn-hyung.

Memorable day for Hong Kong

They would turn out to be the only points that Korea – who had won the two previous meetings between the sides – would score as Hong Kong came back strongly to build a 20-6 lead by half-time with two tries from Phelps. 

The first try was a bit fortunate as Phelps appeared to have knocked on before picking up the ball to score under the posts, but sandwiched between the centre’s tries was a penalty from fly half Chris McAdam and a drop goal by Alex McQueen.

Hong Kong kept the pressure up in the second half with further tries coming from wing Salom Yiu Kam-shing and full back McQueen, the latter created by Rowan Varty to secure the bonus point. Replacement prop Steve Nolan put the icing on the cake with a late try. 

“It is a memorable day in Hong Kong rugby history,” said delighted Hong Kong coach Leigh Jones. “It is the first time that Hong Kong will play in the Repechage at the World Cup … providing they don’t pull off an upset win over Japan.

“Our defence was superb. This game meant a lot to the guys. They showed a lot of commitment and it is nice to go into a meaningful last game.”

Japan, meanwhile, picked up their 26th straight bonus-point victory in Asian 5 Nations history against Sri Lanka, scoring 20 tries with 16 of them converted by full back Ayumu Goromaru for a new Japanese record of conversions in an international match.

Great Japan team ever the aim

It was also Japan’s third highest score and third biggest margin winning margin to the delight of head coach Eddie Jones, who insisted “we aim to be the greatest ever Japan team so we should be breaking records.”

The Brave Blossoms took just three minutes to open the scoring when centre Yasuki Hayashi went over following a huge scrum that saw their visitors shunted back at a rate of knots. Japan then averaged a try every four minutes as they crossed 10 times in each half in Nagoya.

Hooker Takeshi Kizu touched down three times in the opening 25 minutes, while captain and flanker Michael Leitch also finished with a hat-trick. 

The hosts were also helped by the Sri Lankans kicking away far too much of the little possession they had. Not only that but the kicks were often poorly directed, allowing the Brave Blossoms to counter attack, and their pace and power proved too much.

Akihito Yamada and Hendrik Tui both grabbed first-half braces and Yoshikazu Fujita also touched down as Japan led 68-0 at the break. The second half saw more of the same as Japan used their 10kg a man advantage in the forwards to full effect.

Number 8 Ryu Koliniasi Holani added a pair of tries within 10 minutes of the restart, while second row Hitoshi Ono celebrating becoming Japan’s second most capped player by touching down in the 44th minute.

A good experience for Sri Lanka

Leitch completed his hat-trick and hooker Yusuke Yuhara came off the bench and scored as Japan brought up a century of points by the 59th minute.

To their credit Sri Lanka never gave up and a huge roar erupted around the ground when Rizah Mubarak kicked a penalty, but the sound level hit new heights when Fazil Marijah made the most of a rare defensive lapse to score a try.

Tries from Kyosuke Horie, Goromaru – who finished the match with an impressive personal haul of 37 points – and Daishi Murata wrapped up the victory for Japan, who had opened their campaign with a 99-10 win over the Philippines last weekend.

“I am obviously pleased with the result as we have played two games and have maximum points. We are exactly where we want to be and all our thoughts now are on beating Korea next week,” said Jones.

Sri Lanka captain Namal Rajapaksa admitted it had been a good learning curve for his team. “Anyone would be disappointed with the scoreboard, but we didn’t give up and we scored a try that showed we didn’t give up. It was a good experience for our youngsters.”

Hong Kong lead the Top 5 standings with 18 points, six more than Japan who have a game in hand on them with Korea and the leaders still to be faced. Next weekend the fourth round will see Japan travel to Incheon to tackle Korea and Sri Lanka host the Philippines in Colombo.