Hong Kong had double cause to celebrate on Saturday after their 39-5 victory over Korea not only gave them a first-ever Asia Rugby Championship title but also kept their hopes of qualifying for Rugby World Cup 2019 alive.
As Asian champions, Hong Kong now progress to a home-and-away Asia/Oceania play-off with the Cook Islands for the right to enter the four-team global repechage tournament in November.
Hong Kong will travel to the Cook Islands for the first leg on 30 June before the return leg on 7 July with the winner on aggregate to join the already confirmed Canada in the repechage.
“I am ecstatic, the boys really put in there. We started fast and the Koreans couldn’t keep up with us,” said Hong Kong captain James Cunningham, whose side went through the Top 3 competition unbeaten.
“It is great to move on, we scored some great tries and did exactly what we needed to do.
“It feels unreal, it is a real historic moment today for Hong Kong to win their first Asia Rugby Championship, and to go on to face the Cook Islands now is a great. We have done something special today and are all looking forward to the next trip.”
On a sweltering day at the Hong Kong Football Club, the hosts came out of the blocks in impressive fashion and never really looked back, with Korea starved of possession and territory throughout the opening 40 minutes.
Fly-half Matthew Rosslee opened the scoring with an early penalty and then continued his impressive form to score Hong Kong's opening try for an early 10-0 lead. His half-back partner Liam Slatem then added a second after a fine break from centre Jack Neville.
Yiu Kam Shing scored their third and, despite Toby Fenn’s effort being ruled out, Slatem’s second try after a powerful break from winger Conor Hartley secured the all-important bonus point for Hong Kong with a 31-0 lead at half-time.
The heat took its toll in the second half and Korea limited Hong Kong to just one penalty in the first 10 minutes and scored their first try of the match minutes later when, after a sustained period of possession and a number of penalties, captain Yong Seung Lee stormed over the line.
They had given themselves to big a mountain to climb, though, and despite looking stronger in the second half it was left to Jamie Lauder to score Hong Kong’s fifth try with five minutes to go to put the icing on the cake.