Hong Kong V Kenya, Despite having their backs were firmly against the wall in today’s match against Kenya at the Rugby World Cup 2019 repechage in Marseille today, Hong Kong held up its end of the bargain, securing a six-try, bonus point win over Kenya, 42-17 to keep its hope for a place at Rugby World Cup 2019 alive. Hong Kong are still dependent upon the overnight result between table leaders Canada and Germany, who beat Hong Kong 26-9 in the opener.
A brace of tries from reserve No.8 Thomas Lamboley helped pace a five-try second half as Hong Kong turned a 12-7 deficit at the break into a 42-17 win, eliminating Kenya from contention and extending its mastery over Kenya to three straight tests since 2017.
Things looked grim for Hong Kong early on, as they sputtered through a sloppy first half where both sides seemed more intent to turn the ball over then attack with it. That trend continued throughout the match, with an incredible 51 turnovers recorded, 22 for Kenya against 19 for Hong Kong.
With its unorthodox style, the vast amounts of loose ball in the first half benefited the Kenyans, who showed how dangerous they are in chaos with two quick strikes to take a 12-0 lead after 23 minutes.
Kenya outworked Hong Kong in the first half, with the back row led by No.8 Josh Chisange causing massive problems and forcing coach Leigh Jones to turn to the bench after just 26 minutes, bringing on No.8 Thomas Lamboley and prop Jack Parfitt to replace Kane Boucaut and Dylan Rogers. Both were influential in helping to add energy and spine to Hong Kong’s efforts down the first half stretch, while Lamboley would also figure heavily in the second half comeback.
“If you go two tries down in quick succession, you need to do something to change the dynamic,” said coach Leigh Jones after the match.
“The changes we made might not have been hugely fair to the boys who came off, but they had the desired effect.
“We took a calculated risk making so many changes ahead of Kenya, [ed note: 12 positional changes from the opening game vs Germany], but that was always our plan and after we lost to Germany we decided to keep to that plan, as there are still a lot of players we want to look at at this level.
“But we picked a very strong bench; one that we thought could come on late and win us the game, and that’s exactly what they did,” Jones added.
Hong Kong dominated territory in the first half, with more than 70% share of the pitch, but failed to convert possession into points as unforced errors and knock-ons plagued the attack early on, as was the case against Germany.
Hong Kong got on the board after 30 minutes when winger Max Denmark pounced on a well weighted grubber kick from fly-half Ben Rimene, which caught a fortunate bounce on the Stade Delort turf which caused the defence to overrun the ball. Denmark wasted no time in collecting and crashing over and Rimene added the extras, leaving Hong Kong trailing 12-7 entering half-time.
Hong Kong righted ship in the second half, outplaying Kenya behind superior fitness and a strategic kicking game that kept the Kenyans pinned deep in their half where they are prone to self-immolation given their free-wheeling style.
A back-row consisting of Hong Kong’s most capped player Nick Hewson, open-side flanker Toby Fenn, and Lamboley, put on a clinic in the late stages as they blunted the effects of Chisange and crew and kept the scoreboard ticking over, accounting for four of Hong Kong’s five second half tries.
Liam Slatem, who came on for Bryn Philips at half-time, also had a positive impact, as the change from a box-kicking scrum-half in Phillips to Slatem’s slippery running style further kept the Kenyans off balance.
Rimene’s long range touch-finders prevented Kenya from establishing any momentum and contributed to Hong Kong’s first try of the half, after Kenya were penalized covering one of Rimene’s booming up-and-unders.
Rimene’s kick to the line gave Hong Kong the attacking line-out five metres from the try-line. In a perplexingly passive display, the Kenyans let Hewson bring the ball down safely, and added little resistance later as Hewson’s pack-mates drove him over the line. Rimene’s conversion was good, giving Hong Kong its first lead, 14-12, after 50 minutes.
Kenya were penalized for failing to release the ball moments later and Hong Kong once again opted for the line-out with similar results. This time reserve hooker Dayne Jans steered the driving maul on a 20-metre jaunt into the Kenyan half. Hong Kong retained possession across a further 14 phases of play, moving the ball from side to side, before creating a gap for Toby Fenn to score.
Rimene’s conversion extended the lead to 21-12, but Kenya replied almost immediately as full-back Tony Opondo scored his second try to keep Kenya in touch, down 21-17 with 20 minutes left.
The final quarter was all Hong Kong with Thomas Lamboley muscling his way over the line for tries in the 61st and 70th minute. Rimene converted the first, finishing a perfect four for four on his kicking attempts on the day, and pushing Hong Kong ahead 28-17, while reserve fly-half Matt Rosslee converted Lamboley’s second to grow the margin to 35-17.
Lewis Warner scored his first test try for Hong Kong to add the icing on the cake in the dying minutes with Rosslee’s extras bringing the final score to 42-17.