12 May 2018

Hong Kong outlasted South Korea 30-21 today in a rain-drenched Incheon to complete a clean sweep of its away matches in the 2018 Asia Rugby Championship.  

The victory, which coach Leigh Jones called a “massive win” post-match, lifts Hong Kong into sole possession of first place on the table (9 points), ahead of South Korea (5) and Malaysia (0) and sets Hong Kong up to finish with a massive home stand at the end of the month.

Hong Kong were frustrated by the conditions for a second week as the hoped for dry weather never materialized in Incheon with cold, wet and windy conditions throughout the match. South Korea managed the conditions better, scoring three pretty tries to Hong Kong’s two, including two late tries that threatened Hong Kong’s dominance and left the hosts trailing by just one converted try (21-27) with 10 minutes left on the clock.

Given the high, swirling winds, flyhalf Matt Rosslee had a good day with the boot, converting six of seven penalty attempts and a single conversion to account for 20 of Hong Kong’s 30 points.

Rosslee put the first points on the board in the fourth minute with a successful penalty, but South Korea replied shortly thereafter with the first of three well worked tries, as winger Jang Jeongmin tiptoed down the sideline to score early on.  An excellent conversion from flyhalf Oh Younhyung lifted Korean heads even further as they took their first lead at 7-3.

The Koreans let themselves down and let Hong Kong off the hook over the remainder of the half as they conceded a dozen penalties in the opening stanza, giving Hong Kong repeated possession and affording Rosslee more shots at goal as he added two more penalties before halftime.

Rosslee’s second from the tee was good in the 20th minute to bring Hong Kong within a point of the lead at 7-6 before they scored their first try near the 30-minute mark. Centre Tyler Spitz finished the attack but the credit was shared by Hong Kong’s forwards who set up the strike from an attacking lineout deep in Korean territory.

Hong Kong kept flanker Toby Fenn out of the lineout and the flanker did well as first receiver to crash the Korean defence. Prop Dan Barlow offered some brilliant support in the ruck to deliver quick ball for fullback Jack Neville whose half-break opened the defence for Spitz.  Rosslee’s conversion was off the mark, but Hong Kong had regained the lead at 11-7.  

Rosslee atoned for his missed conversion in the 25th minute with a third penalty to extend Hong Kong’s lead to 14-7.  

Scrumhalf Liam Slatem continued to impress on his return to national duty from injury.  The South African’s decision-making at the pivot was crucial throughout the game and told once again late in the half after he backed himself from an attacking scrum to crash over captain and No.8 Lee Youngseung for the try. Rosslee’s conversion was successful as Hong Kong led 21-7 at the half.

Despite having what should have been a commanding lead at the break, Hong Kong let Korea back into the game in the second half as the hosts threw everything into their attack and predictably capitalized on some loose play early on in what was a scrappy second stanza.

Rosslee converted his fourth penalty shortly after the restart to push Hong Kong’s lead out to 24-7, but the Koreans quickly replied with their second try as Lee finished off a beautiful passage of handling to score near the posts and close the gap to 14-24 after Oh’s conversion.

Rosslee then poked Hong Kong further ahead 27-14 with his fifth penalty. The two teams traded attacking forays until late in the match when Korea scored their third try after fullback Lee Jaebok crossed over to close the gap to 21-27 after the conversion.  

Hong Kong’s tenuous hold on the lead left matters in doubt until nearly full-time before Rosslee was able to notch his sixth penalty to push Hong Kong clear at 30-21 as time elapsed.  

Some questionable on-pitch decision making also saw Korea opt for a deep lineout off of a kickable penalty as the seconds ticked by - rather than go for the bonus point loss, leaving Hong Kong with a clear grasp on the championship ahead of return visits from Malaysia and Korea later this month.

Despite the bumpy second half, coach Leigh Jones was pleased with the result from today’s outing.

“Looking at it in context, it is a massive win. It is the strongest Korean side that I have been involved against and they have all their players back from Japan. So the win in that context is massive for us.

“I was really pleased with the first half. We put pressure on and got our due reward. It seems we lost our way in the second half. Our kicking game wasn’t great, our kick-off receipt wasn’t good enough, and we ended up putting ourselves under pressure. The good thing is we can fix those. Those are easy mends.

“But we let them back into it. Whereas in the first half we were competent and did a very professional job against them we let them back into it in the second half. We need to do that for 80 and not 40 minutes.

“At the end of the day it is a massive win. I think they made a grave error not going for the bonus point at the end, but that result sets us up really well now to win the championship. We will need to be professional against Malaysia, but it sets up a great finale at home against Korea in front of our home crowd,” added Jones.