Hong Kong’s U20 rugby team lost 84-10 to Namibia at the World Rugby U20 Trophy last night in Bucharest, Romania.
Accuracy issues and slow starts to both halves contributed to the loss against Namibia fourth placed finishers in the 2017 World Rugby Trophy tournament.
Coach Stephen Dowse had bemoaned that lack of accuracy after the opening round loss to Samoa (41-20), but the problems resurfaced against Namibia.
Hong Kong had a terrible start, with fly half Paul Altier over-egging his kick-off – putting it straight into touch and turning over the ball immediately.
Namibia made their intent clear when they opted to kick for posts from the halfway marker. Fly half Denzo Bruwer had more than enough leg, but his direction finding was off and Hong Kong were let off the hook.
Hong Kong’s troubles at the scrum continued throughout most of the match with the forwards struggling to engage against the efficient Namibian pack at the set piece.
Playing a classic southern African style of 10-man rugby, Namibia moved methodically around the park off of Brewer’s prodigious boot and a strong effort from the forwards to win ball at set piece time.
As the score mounted, the Namibians became looser and more freewheeling, looking to attack from every corner of the park and further plaguing a tiring Hong Kong defence.
The referee’s liberal use of the whistle played to Namibian strengths, as they sought to move from set piece to set piece around the park, while Hong Kong struggled to mount its desired high-tempo attack in the stop-start conditions.
Namibia scored its first try in the opening ten minutes after Hong Kong’s wing was caught badly out of position. The Namibian attack strolled through the resulting arm tackles to post the try. Brewer added the conversion and struck a penalty in the 14th minute to put Hong Kong in a 10-0 hole after 15 minutes.
On the few occasions they were able to inject pace into their attack and maintain possession, Hong Kong once again showed it was competitive at this level. The first scoring chance came midway through the opening half when flanker Oliver Overman muscled his way through the interior defence to find some open space.
Overman’s charge carried Hong Kong to inside Namibia’s 22-metre line before the attack was halted by a Namibian infringement, giving Hong Kong a penalty in scoring range. Hong Kong turned to its most effective attacking play so far in the tournament, the line out. Hong Kong scored all of its points against Samoa from the attacking lineout.
With a kickable penalty for Altier on offer, the move was a calculated risk for the forwards, who backed themselves to good effect a they controlled the ball in the middle of the lineout before forming the rolling maul and depositing flanker James Rivers over the line for Hong Kong’s first score. Altier’s missed conversion left Hong Kong trailing 10-5.
Namibia replied immediately, forcing Hong Kong’s defence into conceding a kickable penalty on their next attack. Brewer slotted the penalty without drama to push the lead to 13-5. Another defensive mistake on the wing moments later saw Hong Kong turn the ball over with their backs to the try-line. Namibia’s onrushing forwards collected the loose ball to cross over easily and push their lead to 20-5.
Hong Kong then entered a particularly flat period of play with their attacks looking leaden-footed and leaking momentum from phase to phase. Namibia responded to Hong Kong heads’ dropping to score their fourth try as they threatened to force open the floodgates.
Trailing 27-5 at the half, No.8 Jake Barlow marshalled his forward pack well as they dug deep to come up with a second try – again off the lineout. Hooker Callum Tam claimed his second try of the tournament after a big push across the line, but another missed Altier conversion left Hong Kong adrift 27-10.
The second half was a tough 40 minutes for Hong Kong with some of the lesser experienced players being given their baptism of fire, further exacerbating some of the inaccuracies on display. Namibia responded by pulling further ahead, scoring its first try in the opening minute of the half and adding seven more tries to top 50 points for a second straight time in the tournament.
The second half included an embarrassing patch of play where Namibia scored three 90-plus metre breakaway tries within ten minutes. As Hong Kong watched numerous attacking opportunities turn into points at the opposite end, spirits fell further.
Hope flickered when a Namibian forward was finally sin-binned for dangerous tackling, (after numerous referee warnings for the same infringement in the first half), but Namibia kept the heat on – scoring an inexplicable four tries while short-handed.
The success with the attacking lineout notwithstanding, Hong Kong’s attack seemed moribund after two matches. The forwards’ proficiency off the deep lineout, while hard to combat, can be easily game-planned for, and can become one-dimensional, as Namibia showed in snuffing out Hong Kong’s few attacking line out chances in the second half.
The challenge for Hong Kong continues in their final pool match against hosts Romania, who lost to Namibia in the opening round and against Samoa yesterday, 31-17.
While Hong Kong has only amassed one victory in four previous World Rugby U20 Trophy competitions, the Hong Kong men’s sevens squad’s success at the 2018 Asian Games, beating Japan to claim the gold medal last night, shows the true value of the competition. Five of the 12-man Asian Games gold medallist squad played at U20s level as recently as last season.
Hong Kong World Rugby U20 Trophy Squad v Samoa:
- Daniel HOOD, 2. Callum TAM, 3. Mikkel CHRISTENSEN, 4. Zachary BALDWIN, 5. James RIVERS, 6. Sam TSOI Kin-san (co-captain), 7. Oliver OVERMAN, 8. Jake BARLOW, 9. Mark COEBERGH (co-captain), 10. Paul ALTIER, 11. Shiven DUHKANDE, 12. Alex NISBET, 13. Tanadol RAE-HOWARD, 14. Matthew WYATT 15. Oliver DUFFY, 16. Takamasa HOSHIYAMA, 17. TANG Man-chun, 18. CHAU Siu-fung, 20. Christopher LAW, 21. Samuel DOWN, 22. Pat LAIDLER, 23. James GOSTICK