Canada and Hong Kong will play off for the 20th and final place at RWC 2019 next Friday after both sides came through difficult challenges from Germany and Kenya respectively to pick up bonus-point wins in round two of the repechage at the Stade Delort in Marseille.
After taking maximum points for the second match in a row with a 29-10 victory over Germany, Canada lead the standings by five points from Hong Kong, who need to win with a bonus point when the sides meet in the third and final round and also deny the Canucks anything from the game to make it to their first Rugby World Cup.
A place in Pool B alongside defending champions New Zealand, two-time Rugby World Cup winners South Africa, Italy and Namibia awaits the winner of the round-robin tournament.
Sadly for Kenya and Germany, the qualification dream is now over.
CANADA 29-10 GERMANY
Canada showed admirable composure to see off stubborn German resistance and get the win that leaves them on the verge of qualification for RWC 2019.
In truth, it was remarkable that Germany were in the contest for so long – there was only a score between the sides with 11 minutes to go – given the weight of territory and possession against them.
But coach Mike Ford’s defensive expertise has clearly rubbed off on Germany who, in the first half especially, tackled themselves to a standstill.
Canada’s big runners came at them time and time again, but it took 23 minutes before their defence was breached, Lucas Rumball blasting through Sebastian Ferreira’s attempted try-line tackle to add to Gordon McRorie’s earlier penalty.
Still, Germany found it difficult to get their hands on the ball but, with half an hour gone, they scored on their first visit to the Canadian 22.
Dasch Barber, a temporary replacement at hooker for Kurt Haupt, who was off the field for a head injury assessment, burrowed over from the base of a ruck within a minute of entering the fray. Raynor Parkinson added the conversion.
It took a brilliant turnover from Jamie Murphy deep inside his 22 to keep the scoreline at 10-7 to Canada at half-time.
There was no let-up from Canada at the restart, DTH van der Merwe climbing high to win the kick-off. Wave after wave of red attacks followed and eventually Tyler Ardron blasted his way over for a try which turned into seven points with the conversion.
Germany responded well to the setback and worked winger Carlos Soteras-Merz into space with some good handling. Flanker Kyle Baillie was penalised at the breakdown and Parkinson kicked the straightforward penalty from 25 metres out.
Then, Gordon McRorie’s show-and-go opened up Germany but the return pass from Theo Saunder went to ground and another opportunity was lost.
After an outstanding turnover from captain Michael Poppmeier came to Germany’s rescue, the Europeans proceeded to enjoy their best passage of play. However, a couple of wayward passes and an untimely knock-on prevented them from closing the gap.
On 69 minutes, it was effectively game over. Baillie took the ball up through the guts of the now tiring German defence to put Canada on the front foot and Matt Heaton then made further inroads after taking an inside pass from McRorie at pace. Stopped just short, Canada quickly recycled the ball and Matt Evans twisted his way over to make it 22-10.
Three minutes later, following good work from the forwards and Ben LeSage’s initial break, McRorie scored himself to secure what could be the all-important try bonus point.
Canada captain Phil Mack was a relieved man at the final whistle. “It was incredibly difficult. We knew they were going to come out strong and we knew they were going to be a big physical side so we really prepared for that. Going into the game, it was one of the most pressurised situations we'd had, but I am so proud of the way the boys hung together and stuck it out. We still have one more game to come and, like last week, we have to reflect on this and carry on and, hopefully, we'll get a trip to the World Cup.”
Germany captain Michael Poppmeier: “All credit to Canada, they played really well. It was a hard, physical game and there is a reason why they have been to every World Cup since its inception. We can only hope we can go from strength to strength.”
HONG KONG 42-17 KENYA
Thomas Lamboley came off the bench to score twice as Hong Kong overcame a scare from Kenya to claim the bonus-point win that keeps their RWC 2019 qualification hopes alive.
Kenya’s off-the-cuff approach caused Hong Kong problems in the first half and Leigh Jones’ side found themselves 12-0 down after 22 minutes. But a much-improved second-half performance turned the tide and they now go into Friday’s finale against Canada with something to play for.
Hong Kong got off to a fast start, forcing Kenya into giving away three penalties inside the first six minutes while under pressure in their own 22, but a lack of precision – and the strength of the Kenyans in contact, notably number eight Josh Chisanga – prevented them capitalising on good field position.
Instead, it was Kenya who got the first score, scrum-half Felix Ayange breaking away from an advancing rolling maul inside the Hong Kong 22 before finding Tony Onyango on his shoulder with an inside pass.
Onyango’s second try in as many matches was quickly followed by a brilliant effort that saw flanker Elkeans Musonye round off a fine move involving great footwork and precision passing from midfield duo, Leo Owade and Collins Injera.
With close to three-quarters territory and Kenya's capacity for turning the ball over, it seemed inevitable that Hong Kong would find a route back into the match, and it came when Nelson Oyoo made a complete hash of a speculative kick through from Ben Rimene. Like any good winger, Max Denmark was up quickly to gather the loose ball and cross for the easiest of tries which Rimene converted. Toby Fenn was then held up over the line as half-time approached.
Hong Kong put an untidy start to the second behind them to seize control of the match with two tries in the space of five minutes. Their most-capped player Nick Hewson plunged over virtually unopposed direct from a lineout before back-row colleague Fenn got the try his tireless work deserved.
With Rimene converting all three tries, Hong Kong had rattled off a run of 21 unanswered points but Onyango high-stepped his way through a tackle to score on 57 minutes and remind them that the job wasn’t done.
Lamboley, a first-half replacement, helped lift the tempo and in the 64th minute he got Hong Kong the all-important bonus point when he finished off a sweet handling move in the corner. The second came from a more direct route, the forward riding Injera’s challenge before just reaching out, at full stretch, to dot the ball down on the line.
By this stage, Matt Rosslee had come on for Rimene but without any adverse effect on the goal-kicking, the replacement fly-half slotting the ball through the posts before adding a superb touchline conversion to Lewis Warner’s late score.
Hong Kong captain James Cunningham: “It was a bit scary at the start. The Kenyans came out real fast and played some great rugby, but we did what we wanted to, we knew we had the fitness, so we just ground it out and finally got some points on the board towards the end of the game. Having the bonus point still keeps us in this tournament, so it was definitely on our minds, but just getting the win is big for us.”
Kenya captain Wilson Kopondo: “I’m very proud of the team. We gave it a good go and we’ll be back better for this. We need to work on closing out games going forward, we were in it for a long time but made a couple of bad calls and let it slip.”