Hong Kong manhandled South Korea with a six-try, 43-17, away win in Yesan today to take the advantage in the tussle for second place in the Asia Rugby Championship as the home and away series returns to Hong Kong next weekend.
It was the second successive year that Hong Kong beat Korea at home and a historic marker for the national team according to coach Leigh Jones.
“Obviously I’m pleased with our performance today, particularly our defence which I thought was outstanding. To put 40 points on Korea – who have improved a lot under their new coaching team, in Korea, is impressive for me.
“Today was a real milestone for Hong Kong rugby. We created a bit of history and I think it shows that the steps we’re taking in our professional approach are heading in the right direction.
“I told the team we were capable of that type of performance here and the players responded magnificently. We have made significant progress since our move to professionalism and we can still make that much progress again but we need to continue working hard. If we don’t, we can easily slide back down that greasy pole,” added Jones.
After a solid first ten minutes South Korea quickly fell off the pace and looked disjointed for large periods of the game with Hong Kong’s defensive effort snuffling out any sustained attacks.
Hong Kong meanwhile steadily asserted its dominance before breaking the hosts’ defence with three tries in a ten-minute spurt, en route to a 24-5 lead at halftime.
Lock James Cunningham opened the scoring in the 13th minute, finishing off some skilful support play and handling by fellow forwards Ben Roberts and Nick Hewson. Three minutes later it was Tyler Spitz’s turn as he finished off a lovely, flowing offensive move he had started from his own 22-metre line, when he collected an errant Korean kick and returned the ball 80 metres before off-loading in the tackle deep in Korean territory.
Captain Ben Roberts showed some deft touch with a nifty back-hand pass to Cado Lee Ka-to, who quickly shuttled the ball out for the waiting Spitz, who collected in space and dove over the line for his second try of the Championship.
In the 23rd minute, centre Lex Kaleca scored his first try of the series after catching the Koreans sleeping with a quick tap-and-go penalty.
Jamie Hood, who covered fullback well after replacing a hobbled Alex McQueen earlier this week, added all three first half conversions on a solid day with the boot (going six for seven on the afternoon) to extend the margin to 21-0.
Winger Ally Maclay nearly added a fourth try late in the half, but it was called back after replays showed that he knocked on in the grounding. Instead it was Korea with a late score to get on the board down 21-5. Hood added a penalty after Korea was called for a late challenge on Cado Lee, bringing the half-time score to 24-5.
Hong Kong was equally determined after the break, scoring a crucial fourth try to secure the bonus point and negate Korea’s single point advantage in the standings in the 43rd minute.
This time it was Yiu Kam-shing crossing over from in close as James Cunningham secured the ball from an attacking lineout, bringing it down to form the driving maul and keep the Koreans on the back foot. Cado Lee found the on-rushing Yiu in second phase play to wrong-foot the interior defence for the try, extending the visitors’ lead to 31-5 after Hood’s conversion.
Spitz scored his second try of the match, and third of the championship, shortly thereafter in what was a momentum sapping score for the hosts, who seconds before were attacking Hong Kong’s try-line. A loose pass by Korea led to a Hood kick up field, with Yiu, Hood and Spitz chasing heavily.
Hood collected his own kick ahead beautifully with a one-handed pick-up before dumping off to the unmarked Spitz on his outside shoulder for a try beneath the posts. Hood’s conversion extended the margin to 38-5.
Maclay finally got on the scoreboard late in the match after outsprinting the defence for Hong Kong’s sixth try. Maclay was put in space by some nifty passing from No.8 Thomas Lamboley who lured in the Korean defence before an underhand pass to Cado Lee, whose quick hands put Maclay in the clear to score in the corner. Hood’s only unsuccessful conversion attempt of the day left the score at 43-5.
South Korea came back to score two tries in the final quarter and briefly threatened to collect the bonus point, which could have had a major impact on the series, but Hong Kong’s defence held strong in the waning minutes, leaving the final score at 43-17.
The result sees Hong Kong leapfrog Korea on the table with five points (four for the win and the bonus point), ahead of Korea’s single point. The final round of the championship will be held next Saturday at Hong Kong Football Club as Hong Kong look to seal second place for a third successive season.
Jones will now look to bring his charges back down to earth after the impressive away performance.
“There will be a reaction from them next week no doubt. Korea had some success from their sheer ability to take advantage of broken play. They will be wounded now and we’ve got to be good enough to handle that next weekend,” added Jones.
Storey Curtesy: https://www.hkrugby.com/
Photo Credit: Kenji Demura