Hong Kong beat a tough Crawshays RFC invitational XV last night, 35-24, behind a natural hat-trick from in-form full-back Casey Stone at The Gnoll in Neath, Wales.
It was the final warm-up fixture for Hong Kong ahead of departing tomorrow for the four-team qualifier to determine the 20th team at Rugby World Cup 2019 in Marseille, where Canada, Germany and Kenya await.
Needing to winnow down the current 35-man squad into a final selection of 30 early next week, and with seven potential first caps included in the group, the two Welsh fixtures have helped the coaching team finalise their entry for Hong Kong’s biggest ever tournament later this month.
Given the invitational nature of their opponents, Hong Kong expected a Barbarians style match with plenty of free-flowing rugby from Crawshays. They got just that, with the hosts fielding a talented backline including captain Geraint O’Driscoll, who has over 130 appearances at fullback for Newport alongside stints with Pontypool and the Dragons; Chris Czekaj, a centurion for Cardiff Blues who was capped nine times for Wales; and one of the top outside halves in the domestic scene in Jack Maynard.
Hong Kong came to the party as well with fullback Casey Stone, who has made the most of his opportunities to press for a spot in France this week, adding a hat trick to his try in the opening match against Dragons, to lead all scorers for Hong Kong in the principality.
Stone struck early and often, pacing Hong Kong to a 14-0 lead with fly-half Matt Rosslee adding the conversions in the first 20 minutes. Playing in front of their home turf, Crawshays responded in the second quarter, producing two tries from Hong Kong turnovers to level the score 14-all at half-time.
Stone completed the natural hat trick shortly after play resumed, pushing Hong Kong ahead 21-14 after the conversion. Crawshays kept it close, but Hong Kong’s pack was rewarded for an evening of hard graft with a penalty try down the stretch, before centre Tyler Spitz’s late try put Hong Kong home, 35-24.
Dai Rees, Chief Rugby Operations Officer at the Hong Kong Rugby Union, commented on the outing saying, “It was another tough game, which was just what we needed.
“They put out a strong side and put us under a lot of pressure. Defensively, we had a few lapses on occasions, which we will need to address, but the boys stayed positive and worked hard. It was a good win, an ugly one maybe, but one that will give us some confidence going in.
“As Leigh [head coach Leigh Jones] told the boys after the game, ‘we are going to have to win ugly in France as well’, so we’ll take that.”
Rees believes that the primary objectives have been achieved from Hong Kong’s Welsh warm-up.
“We came here with a group of players that hadn’t played that much together of late, and had had no international action for three months. These guys don’t play together that often, so bringing them together into an international environment has been essential.
“We have achieved what we wanted, which was to come over and acclimatize, and to play two very tough games. We’ve also achieved a very high level of training and preparation here. We brought a squad of 35 healthy players and are now able to select a group of 30 from that healthy squad of 35,” Rees added.
Hong Kong is expected to confirm its final squad for the repechage later next week.
The week in Wales has helped clarify some of the selection panel’s thinking on the final roster according to Rees.
“The guys have really put their hands up across the squad, so it is going to be a very difficult decision to make, but the past week has given us some clarity.
“We brought over some specialist players in certain areas, in terms of knowing where exactly we probably needed to cut, and I think this week has made some of those decisions for us.
“But it’s been tough and it is going to be tough on the players who don’t make it certainly. Everyone wants to be involved which is good, and we will keep them involved, the entire squad will travel to France as a group of 35, and they will continue to be a big part of our preparation,” Rees added.
Hong Kong squad v Crawshays RFC
- Dan BARLOW, 2. Dayne JANS, 3. Grant KEMP, 4. James CUNNINGHAM ©, 5. Jack DELAFORCE, 6. Kane BOUCAUT, 7. Mike COVERDALE, 8. Thomas LAMBOLEY, 9. Bryn PHILLIPS, 10. Matt ROSSLEE, 11. Conor HARTLEY, 12. Ben AXTEN-BURRETT, 13. Tyler SPITZ, 14. Salom YIU Kam-shing, 15. Casey STONE, 16. Ben HIGGINS, 17. Mitch ANDREWS, 18. Jack PARFITT, 19. Mike PARFITT, 20. Finn FIELD, 21. Jamie LAUDER, 22. Jamie HOOD, 23. Lewis WARNER.