11 Nov 2017

Hong Kong came agonisinglyclose to taking down Russia in their opening match of the Regal Hotels Cup of Nations at King’s Park on Friday night, ultimately falling 16-13 to a last-minute penalty.

After fighting their way back from 10 points down at half-time to level the scores, Hong Kong were left shattered as Russia fly half RamilGaysin slotted the winning penalty.

“On the whole, reasonably happy we are making progress, utterly disappointed with the result,” Hong Kong coach Leigh Jones said.

“We are becoming more physical, we stood up to the physical onslaught of Russia and bounced back and came at them in the second half. So that shows the benefit of our professional programme, being able to do that.”

Hong Kong got off to a shaky start, with debutant Conor Hartley dropping the opening kick-off and Gaysin opening the scoring with a penalty.

But the hosts settled quickly and fly half Matt Rosslee squared things away with a penalty of his own on 10 minutes.

What followed was an intense period in which both sides defended and attacked with vigour, with Hong Kong moving the ball well but also snuffing out any of Russia’s attacking moves when needed.

The next score came in the 30th minute, with Gaysin converting a straightforward penalty that led to Hong Kong hooker DayneJans receiving a yellow card.

The score remained 6-3 until the dying stages of the first half, with Russia again on the board through a lineout drive.

It was hooker StanislavSelskii who dotted down, with Gaysinadding the extras to make it 13-3 at the break.

Hong Kong drew first blood in the second half, with Rossleeknocking over a 52nd-minute penalty.

Russia began to build momentum as the second half wore on, however a number of misplaced kicks halted their progress and ensured some respite for the hosts.

Hong Kong refused to lie down and a number of handling errors indicated Russia were beginning to tire.

Hong Kong capitalised on 67 minutes, with Cado Lee Ka-to dishing off to winger SalomYiuKam-shing for a try, with Rosslee’s extras levelling proceedings at 13-13.

But try as they might, Hong Kong couldn’t quite keep the Russians out despite defending grimly in the dying minutes.

Gaysin first missed a drop goal while the referee was playing advantage, before returning to split the middle from the earlier penalty.

“Our scrum against Russia I thought was outstanding, our line-out needs to continue to improve,” Jones said.

“I think if I had to point to an area where we couldn’t secure enough ball, it would have been our line-out.

“Then we can’t secure enough territory and then we are getting into this downward spiral.

“If our line-out functions, we can get a foothold in their territory and we can build our game, so our line-out needs to improve.”

Jones was pleased with the overall effort of his team and was loathe to single out players, however he admitted hooker DayneJans and captain Nick Hewson, in his 50th test, both showed plenty.

LexKaleca was also at his imposing best, while Toby Fenn, James Cunningham and Jamie Hood all made an impact.

Jones also praised the work of his replacements, with the likes of second rower Kyle Sullivan and Lee coming on and making their presence felt.

“The bench actually made a difference, they added some zip which is what you want to see as a coach,” Jones said. “I’m quite pleased with what the subs added to the game, all credit to them.”

The earlier match between tournament debutants Chile and Kenya saw Chile lead 6-3 after a tight first half before pulling away to win 23-3.

Hong Kong take on Chile on Tuesday night at 7pm at King’s Park, while Russia and Kenya square off in the early game.