Hong Kong got their Asia Rugby Championship 2018 campaign off to a winning start with a 67-8 victory over hosts Malaysia in a hot and humid Kuala Lumpur on Saturday.
The win takes Hong Kong to the top of the Top 3 standings, albeit only on point differential from Korea who they face in Incheon next week as the region’s road to Rugby World Cup 2019 continues.
Even with a heavy downpour an hour before the game, the opening 15 minutes were hotly contested with both sides testing each other’s defences.
Malaysia had a good period of possession but with second-row Aporosa Duwailea in the sin bin, Hong Kong’s experience shone through as number eight Thomas Lamboley got over the whitewash off the back of a scrum.
Matt Rosslee found his kicking boots to add a penalty minutes later before Malaysia were returned to their full complement of players, but even after Duwailea's return Hong Kong continued to enjoy dominance at the scrum and lineout, gaining significant metres from their set-pieces.
Such dominance saw Lamboley score his second try in similar fashion to the first after 30 minutes, before full-back Jack Neville jinked his way through the defence to score Hong Kong’s third try to make it 20-0 to the visitors.
As the clock ticked down towards half-time, Malaysia were rewarded for their desire to play free-flowing rugby when number eight Etonia Sakuru combined well with Timoci Vunimoku to score in the corner. However, there was still time for Liam Slatem to run in from 40 metres to make it 27-5 at half-time.
Floodgates open in rain
The heavens opened in the second half, but the pouring rain didn’t stop Hong Kong from piling on the points at the Bukit Jalil National Stadium with winger Salom Yiu Kam-shing scoring twice in as many minutes as the visitors’ patience continued to reap rewards.
Prop Jamie Pincott was not to be denied moments later as the big man, who had built a head of steam in his supporting run, found himself in possession and clear space with 20 metres to the line. Conor Hartley scored Hong Kong’s eighth try before Jack Parfitt and Robbie Keith touched down. Malaysia did have the final say with a long-range penalty to make the final score 67-8.
“We started slowly but finished strongly,” said coach Leigh Jones afterwards. “I’m reasonably happy. With conditions as they were last week we didn't know what to expect today and it was again difficult to play, but I was pleased with our strike-rate. We managed to finish off a lot of tries. There were also a lot of errors that I wouldn't like to see normally, but I think many of those were down to the conditions.”
“It was a difficult game with the weather and the fact that Malaysia were looking to slow it down at every opportunity, so it was a bit of a stop-start affair. But I thought it was a very competent second-half performance in particular, very professional, and we have come out of it unscathed as well. No injuries today and a few players coming back next week, so we are in a very positive place going into Korea next week.”
Captain Jamie Cunningham added: “I’m really happy with how the boys went today. We held our composure under some real pressure at the start and played some good footy. The ball got away from us at times, but we were able to come back and put some points on the board, which is what we wanted to do.”
Malaysia captain Syahir Asraf Rosli added: “I think most of our team playing against Hong Kong in this atmosphere and environment is something to be extremely proud of, but we need to get back on the two weeks of preparation and get ready for our away matches.”