Coach Jo Hull’s Hong Kong squad showed it is applying the tough lessons of the pool stages to good effect at the Women’s Rugby World Cup after submitting their best performance against Spain in a 31-7 loss last night in Belfast.
Hong Kong V Spain
The 31-7 scoreline belies what was a pulsating contest and an improved performance against Spain, despite the inclusion of 11 of Spain’s Olympic sevens team missing from the June warm-up tour.
Hong Kong claimed 61% of the territory and possession on the afternoon, but ultimately could not crack a solid defence, while Spain were able to turn Hong Kong’s few miscues into points, scoring five tries, several against the run of play.
“We expected them to come out fast and they did,” said Hull, the only female head coach at the World Cup.
“We held them off quite well from the start and I’m proud of the girls. That game shows how much we have improved against teams like Spain, and what was a full-strength Spanish team as well, over the World Cup.
“We’ve now shown we can close the gap on teams like that, compared to what we were doing against them even a few months ago.” Hong Kong lost 41-18 to Spain in June.
For the first time on this formative sojourn to Ireland, Hong Kong controlled significant periods of the match, racking up multiple phases against a resolute Spanish defence that made 201 tackles on the day. Despite the relentless attack, Hong Kong could not penetrate the final line of defence and the breakneck pace of the match and physical effort took its toll in the later stages.
“We were competitive for 50 or 60 minutes, but once they got their momentum up it was quite difficult to score and they did well to take advantage of our mistakes,” said Hull.
“At half-time there was one try in it, despite the fact that we didn’t manage the contact area as well as we wanted to. Even with a lot of possession we couldn’t generate much momentum in the first half.
“But we made them defend. There were plenty of times that if we would have just gotten that final pass away we would have been under the posts.
“The girls made them play and forced them into a type of game that wasn’t to their liking and that took a lot of bravery to go out and make those tackles and continue to reload,” Hull added.
After a nervy opening ten minutes, when they conceded an early try off of an attacking Spanish scrum, Hong Kong rebounded superbly, going on to dominate the opening half in both territory and possession.
The momentum built from an aggressive defensive effort punctuated by a succession of Hong Kong danger women, Chong Ka-yan, Rose Hopewell-Fong and Adrienne Garvey, intercepting passes early on, unsettling the Spanish attack.
Hong Kong continued to fluster the Spanish, whose raised tempers led to raised tackles. Spain conceded 10 penalties in the first half while a composed Hong Kong gave up only two, both late in the half.
Adrienne Garvey nearly capitalised on Spanish indiscretion midway through the half but her penalty attempt hit the post. Hong Kong quickly gathered possession and were once again on the attack.
Prop Isabel Rico picked an opportune moment to score her first try of the World Cup with a captain’s effort as she carried the ball over 30 metres to score, extending Spain’s lead to 14-0.
As has been their trademark this World Cup, Hong Kong kept coming and were rewarded with their third try of the championship in the 35th minute when No.8 Amelie Seure won a wrestling match at the back of a line-out to carry the ball into the Spanish midfield.
Hong Kong won the ensuing ruck and pocket rocket Chloe Mak Ho-yee, the smallest player at the world championships at 150cm, shuttled the ball out to Rose Hopewell-Fong who did well to control a bouncing ball and found the only crack in the Spanish defence for the try.
Garvey’s conversion was true and Hong Kong was lifted by the 14-7 score and the chants of ‘Hong Kong, Hong Kong’ that reverberated throughout the grounds on the international broadcast feed.
Spanish frustrations mounted and a third high tackle put Elena Redondo in the sin-bin as Hong Kong looked to press home its advantage over the final five minutes of the half. But Spain’s defence was bulletproof once again as they managed to run out the clock.
Assisted by the numerical advantage, Hong Kong started the second half superbly, dominating possession and taking the ball deep into Spain’s territory from the outset. The defence was equal to the challenge and despite weathering 18 phases of Hong Kong attack Spain was able to return to equal strength without conceding any points.
It was a crucial opportunity gone missing for Hong Kong and Spain would add insult to injury with a try shortly after. The Spanish turned Hong Kong over at halfway and showed quick heels and hands to score, the conversion pushing their lead to 21-7.
Momentum shifted to Spain from then on as their attacks proliferated from around the park. Speedster wing Iera Echibbaria put on a sprint master class as she ran in from 90-metres out to further extend margin to 26-7. A determined defensive effort from Hong Kong kept the damage to a minimum, but Hong Kong allowed a fifth try in the 78th minute that further flattered Spain.
The result sets up a tantalizing finale for a Hong Kong side that has won hearts and minds in Ireland against rivals Japan with both teams in search of a first Rugby World Cup win.
“We will take a lot of confidence from this game. That is very telling now for us in our last game, said Hull.
“Now we have a chance to really challenge Japan and go into that game with some belief. They put a heavy score on us before the World Cup and this will be another opportunity, like Spain, to benchmark our progress and to continue to close that gap,” said Hull.
Photo & Story : HKRU