17 Nov 2018

Photo credit: World Rugby

Despite having their backs firmly against the wall in today’s match against Kenya at the Rugby World Cup 2019 repechage in Marseille, Hong Kong held up its end of the bargain, securing a six-try, bonus point win, 42-17, to keep its hopes for a place at the World Cup alive.

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 the Simbas to three straight tests since 2017.

Things looked grim early on, as Hong Kong sputtered through a sloppy first half where both sides seemed more intent on turning the ball over then attacking 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 Kenya, 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 adding energy and spine to Hong Kong’s efforts down the first half stretch, while Lamboley also figured 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], 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 need 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 said.


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, with the fortunate bounce causing 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 were more 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 a booming up-and-under.

Rimene’s kick to touch gave Hong Kong the attacking line-out five metres from the try-line. Perplexingly, the Kenyans let Hewson bring the ball down safely and added little to no resistance as his pack-mates drove him over the line.  Rimene’s conversion gave Hong Kong its first lead, 14-12, after 50 minutes.

Kenya were penalized for failing to release the ball soon after and Hong Kong once again opted for the line-out. This time reserve hooker Dayne Jans steered the driving maul on a 20-metre jaunt into the Kenyan half. Hong Kong retained possession across 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 close the gap to 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 attempts from the tee, 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 to add the icing on the cake in the dying minutes with Rosslee’s extras bringing the final score to 42-17.

Canada kept up its hot hand with a second straight bonus point win over Germany.  That result leaves Hong Kong needing a bonus point win over Canada, who have qualified for every world championship since the first in 1987, to book their ticket to Japan.

“It’s a tough ask,” admitted Leigh Jones.

“Canada are a good side. Can we beat Canada? Yes. Can we beat Canada with a bonus point? I’m not sure, we’ll have to wait until Saturday to see. It’s going to be an interesting week.

“We are going to have to match them up front in the forwards, which will be difficult. They have a very impressive tight five and some good ball carriers.

“It will take a massive effort and some hard work to match the up front, but we are coming in pretty fresh, considering we’ve had two tests and two warm-up matches.

“It could be our last game of the season and we need to come in absolutely fizzing with energy,” Jones added.


Hong Kong squad v Kenya

RWC 2019 Repechage, Marseille, 17 November

1. Ben HIGGINS, 2. Ben ROBERTS, 3. Dylan ROGERS, 4. James CUNNINGHAM ©, 5. Fin FIELD, 6. Nick HEWSON, 7. Toby FENN, 8. Kane BOUCAUT, 9. Bryn PHILLIPS, 10. Ben RIMENE, 11. Max DENMARK, 12. Ben AXTEN-BURRETT, 13. Tyler SPITZ, 14. YIU Kam-Shing, Salom, 15. Jamie HOOD. 16. Dayne JANS 17. Dan BARLOW, 18. Jack PARFITT, 19. Mick PARFITT 20. Thomas LAMBOLEY, 21. Liam SLATEM, 22. Matt ROSSLEE, 23. Lewis WARNER.