Hong Kong ran out comfortable 51-0 winners over the Cook Islands in their Asia/Oceania play-off second leg at the Hong Kong Football Club on Saturday to keep alive their hopes of qualifying for Rugby World Cup 2019.
The Asia Rugby Championship 2018 winners will now take their place alongside Canada, the loser of Samoa v Germany play-off – the Pacific Islanders won the first leg 66-15 last weekend – and the Rugby Africa Gold Cup runners-up in the four-team global repechage in November that will determine the 20th and final qualifier for Japan 2019.
While Hong Kong only needed to avoid a loss of more than 23 points to advance, having won the first leg 26-3 in Rarotonga last weekend, coach Leigh Jones had predicted that more was to come from his charges, and they duly delivered with a six-try shutout of the Cook Islands at home.
Hong Kong led 17-0 at half-time after tries from winger Salom Yiu Kam-shing and centre Max Woodward, fly-half Matt Rosslee converting both tries and adding a penalty.
Rosslee started the second-half scoring with a penalty in the 46th minute to nudge the floodgates further ajar, with Jamie Hood and Alex Post adding tries in the final stanza. Post grabbed a second-half brace in only his third test as he continues to stake his claim for a spot in what is a highly competitive front row.
A penalty try was also awarded to Hong Kong with replacement fly-half Ben Rimene slotting a drop goal to to help the home side through the 50-point mark and keep their try-line intact for the second week running.
“We didn’t know exactly what to expect from the Cook Islands. Having been through that arduous travel a week ago, I wasn’t sure how they would come through,” Jones said.
“But there was a prize at the end of today’s match. The boys last week were subdued after the win as they knew there was still another level of performance to reach and they reached it today.
“There was a lot of intrinsic motivation there and as a result the coaching staff had very little to do this week. The boys really ran themselves.
“Our defence was superb. I can’t single anyone out, but as a whole, to keep two clean sheets, especially away in the Cook Islands, was really difficult to do.”
Looking ahead to the repechage and Hong Kong’s bid to reach a first-ever Rugby World Cup, Jones believes that his side has sent a message to the opposition this November.
“I think we sent a real strong message now. If you look at the Cook Islands, with so many players playing in top rugby competitions around the world, it is going to take a good side to beat us now.
“This series tells me that we can compete at tier two level. Now we need to be able to do that week in and week out and that will be the focus going forward.”