01st Jun 2024

Hong Kong China Women beat Kazakhstan for just the third time in their history in the final match of the Asia Rugby Women Championship 2024 to secure the runner-up place in the standings. More importantly the team has booked a spot in WXV for the first time and kept their pathway to Rugby World Cup 2025 England open.

The heavy rain dictated the type of game on display late on Saturday at Hong Kong Football Club as Hong Kong China and Kazakhstan locked horns for another really tight game. Although the first half was a one score game, Hong Kong China dominated the second half and kept the visitors scoreless to claim a historic 22-0 win. 

Hong Kong China Women’s XV captain Pun Wai Yan said after the win “I think during the game there were many tough moments but it was a team effort and we got the result we wanted. We wanted to fight back after last year's results in the ARWC and keep the Rugby World Cup dream going.”

Zoe Smith, who was excellent off the kicking tee added, “We have been working for this for so long. There was pressure but I thought, as a team, we coped really well. It's such a historic moment for us to play at home in Hong Kong and qualify for WXV for the first time. It's huge for us and the team, and we are so excited for the opportunity that we now get to play different teams.”

World Cup 2025 qualification is the next goal, and Smith said that is definitely a goal but they want to focus on WXV first but they as a group are very happy to have the pathway open.

First Half Slug - Hong Kong China Secure The Lead

It was a rugby game for the purists. The first half was full of bustle and tight physical play, with the one spark of magic leading to the only score when Ka Yan Chong dotted down out wide, expertly converted by Zoe Smith. It was the right wing Chong’s second try in the Asia Rugby Women’s Championship 2024 after also scoring against the Championship winners Japan.

Elsewhere, the half was mainly played in the Hong Kong China territory, but Kazakhstan could not convert the pressure and territorial advantage as the hosts put their bodies on the line to win several turnovers and forced errors as the wet ball robbed the game of any flow.

There were big physical collisions and long periods of possession interjected by great defence. The crowd stayed on in the torrential rain and cheered on from the HKFC covers as the two sides struggled to gain any momentum. 

It was Hong Kong China who had stoically defended for large parts of the opening quarter as they could not find the release valve on the pressure of walled-blue Kazakhstan shirts. They came with big runners and short passes, several trick play lineouts and driving mauls but all were repelled. 

Then it was Hong Kong China who camped in the opposition half and repeated infringements saw the play and possession turn hands several times.

One of the more nervy moments came when one of the many pressurised clearance kicks was charged down within the Hong Kong China 22m but they still held out.

It was feisty, fierce and combative with both sides struggling with the conditions but also knowing what was at stake. It was Hong Kong China who went into the half with the slender 7-0 lead.

Second Half - Dominant Hong Kong China Women Get The Job Done

It was more of the same at start of half but a cliched team effort and strong carries from Shanna Forrest, Georgia Rivers, captain Pun Wai Yan, and Natasha Olson-Thorne ensured the team made bustling moves forward.

One of those carries was a fantastic line break from Olson-Thorne which earned the team a penalty within five minutes of the half which Zoe Smith slotted over to extend the lead to 10-0. From thereon it was all Hong Kong China.

The forward pack was immense, winning penalties at the scrums and disrupting the Kazakh attacks. Then it was the visitors lineouts which started to falter while ours was steady and the momentum change was clear. 

Several phases of play saw Chong Ka Yan nearly crossover for another score but she was just denied, only for Olson-Thorne to finish off the incisive attack with her strength - she was excellent in her centre pairing with Georgia Rivers with the latter using her boot to drive the opposition downfield. The try made the score Hong Kong China 15-0 Kazakhstan and gave the hosts some welcomed breathing space.

Within minutes it was again Olson-Thorne with a fantastic steal and another series of phases drew a penalty from Kazakhstan. Hong Kong China opted for a scrum and earned several penalties and a free kick before a third try after more than a dozen phases, when 28-cap loosehead Lau Nga Wun scored from close range and Smith converted for a 22-0 lead. WXV was beckoning.

The home bench was mostly being cleared with 15 minutes to go and the reserves kept up the pressure on an increasingly frustrated looking Kazakhstan team.

The final ten minutes was played out in the Kazakhstan half with Hong Kong China earning more scrum penalties to see out the game while keeping the visitors scoreless. Zoe Smith had one last chance to add a penalty but it fell wide and the ball was put into touch. 

When the final whistle went, the Hong Kong China players rushed to embrace in a group hug, knowing they are heading to WXV in Dubai later this year.

Hong Kong China Women’s Head Coach Royce Chan, “We have a door open now to expose ourselves in another international tournament (WXV) but more important, is we keep our dream alive for Rugby World Cup 2025 qualification. In the first half we didn't play the way we wanted and they put us under pressure. We had more belief after the try and built up the momentum in the second half. That penalty from Zoe Smith was big as we played with more freedom.”

Coach Royce Chan has now steered her side to all three wins over Kazakhstan, and today’s win was by the biggest margin.

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