31st Jul 2023

[Hong Kong, 31 July 2023]:   The Hong Kong China men’s U20s rugby team lost to the USA U20s, 47-22, in the final round of the World Rugby U20 Trophy 2023 in Nairobi to finish 8th place in the competition.

A challenging start saw Hong Kong China trailing 14-0 after just 10 minutes after the USA U20s produced two well-worked team tries to put Hong Kong under pressure.  

After weathering the opening storm, Hong Kong China struck back on its first scoring chance in the USA half. The scoring play was started by the forwards, who blew up the junior Eagles scrum in front of the posts.  Fullback Dylan McCann then poked the ensuing penalty kick into the corner where hooker Dewi Simons capped off a throw to the front with a plunge try from in close to the line to shave the Eagles lead to 14-5.

Shortly before half-time the USA had another scoring chance but centre Jamie Blair produced a try-saving tackled to end up under the ball across the try-line.  Unfortunately, the ensuing clearance kick found USA fullback Corbyn Smith, whose scything run brought the ball back to the try-line.  Smith offloaded well to flanker Hayden McKay who scored to grow the USA’s advantage to 19-5 shortly before half-time.

The USA produced another furious start to the second half that brought them right down to the Hong Kong China try-line for a series of crash ball attacks. The defence withstood the first waves, eventually forcing winger Aaron Faison into touch with the ball, but prop Caden Crist scored from the ensuing line-out drive. The USA’s fourth try of the game pushed the lead to 26-5.

Faison collected his try just a minute later after Smith found the gap in the Hong Kong defence from the re-start and set the flying winger free on the far touchline. Faison finished the final 40-metre footrace to push the USA lead to 33-5 with 30 minutes remaining.

Hong Kong China nearly produced a cracking try on the hour marker after some nifty footwork behind the lineout from Matthew Rickard.  Good interplay passing between Rickard and prop Billy Rigby almost produced the try 50-metres down field, but on this occasion the Eagles were able to pack Rickard into touch, win their lineout and clear their lines.  

The scores were stuck at 33-5 as the match entered what would be a frenetic final 15 minutes with three tries, two yellow cards and a red card still to come. 

A stolen lineout and a difficult bounce off the kick and chase ball led to the USA’s fifth try, scored by Hayden McKay to push their lead to 40-5 in the 65th minute.  The USA were then handed their first yellow card in the 67th minute when Henry Duke was penalized for being off his feet in the contact area.

In the 74th minute, flanker Fritz Mahn, the youngest player in the tournament at just 17, used the extra space to crash over for Hong Kong China’s second try. McCann’s conversion brought the score to 40-12.

A defensive lapse allowed the USA to reclaim their restart kick inside Hong Kong China’s half, and a few phase plays later the attack was brought quickly to the try-line where McKay picked up from the base of the ruck to score his hat-trick and push the USA lead to 47-12.

Reserve winger Charles Warren replied instantly, dodging a defender and driving over a second tackler on the far touchline to score for Hong Kong China from a great solo effort.  McCann’s conversion was wide but Hong Kong had built their score further to 17-47.

Duke re-entered the pitch only to take a Hong Kong China defender in the air, earning a red card for accumulating two yellows.  

With space again out wide, Max Threlkeld finished a beautifully flowing play to score for Hong Kong China. The move was started by a great line break upfield from McCann and aided by precision passing at pace, helping Hong Kong to finish on a high, despite losing 47-22.

“That finish and our last 15 minutes showed what we are capable of,” said coach Logan Asplin post-match. “Our potential was always there but we couldn’t always finish our chances”.

“We had to dig pretty deep today, that was every healthy player we had in our 23 today. If we had put the best part of our four games here together, we would have been right in the mixer but we had to be a bit more ruthless in our execution. Our experience and game management and execution let us down at times and I think it shows that this is a really, really young team out there.”

Asplin was excited at what lies in store for this group of players: “This tournament will give our guys some fire in the belly. We have a lot of potential in this group and the boys have seen they can compete at this level. Fourteen of our 23 will be back to compete in this competition next year, and not many teams can say that.”

“We did not necessarily have a goal to win the tournament, but we have brought together 28 talented and committed young men all heading in the same direction for Hong Kong China which is awesome,” concluded Asplin.