25 Nov 2019

Hong Kong lost to Spain 29-7 on Saturday in Madrid, splitting their results on their European Tour after beating Belgium in the opener 37-17.

Hong Kong were competitive against a Spanish XV on a high this season after marking its ninth straight win on a day when Spanish Rugby celebrated the 20th anniversary of its only Rugby World Cup qualifying side from 1999 and farewelled a veteran captain leaving the country.

It was the first test match between the two teams, although they have met several times in sevens. On those occasions, Spain’s size has proven challenging, and in the first test it was again something to contest with as the Spanish lodged a pushover try and scored from a driving maul.

Hong Kong met the pressure head on, holding its own in the opening stages, including snuffing out Spain’s first attacking lineout in Hong Kong territory. The visitors also generated scoring opportunities, but could not convert three penalty attempts or some prime first half possession into points as Spain pulled away.

Outside centre Andrea Rabago opened the scoring with a penalty after 13 minutes while the hosts first try came from a pushover scrum in the 24th minute with no.8 Lionel Tauli claiming the score. Rabago’s penalty brought Spain’s lead to 10-0 entering the second quarter. Fullback John Bell scored for Spain on 40 minutes to put the deficit at 17-0 after Rabago’s second conversion.

The second half was tighter with Spain adding a third try from lock Lucas Guillaume on 65 minutes before Hong Kong put its first points on the board in the 77th minute with a try to scrumhalf Bryn Phillips converted by Paul Altier, to bring the score to 22-7. Spain added a final try on 80 minutes through Rabago, who converted his own tally to bring the final to 29-7.

For coach Andrew Hall it was a positive performance for this stage of Hong Kong’s preparations: “It was a fair result and Spain deserved to win; having said that, we left points on the pitch with a few missed opportunities early on that would have made for a tighter game.

“It was a great learning curve for us, and one thing that came from the analysis was that it was not so much our systems and structures, but that we made too many individual errors at critical times, and Spain punished each of those errors with points. But individual errors can be fixed.

“It would have been nice to get two wins, but on balance, we blooded nine new caps and uncovered a few gems, and exposed the group to the type of high level opposition we will see at Rugby World Cup qualification time.

“Given that, the result was largely positive at this juncture.”

Importantly, Hall believes that the squad has established an important marker for their future development.

“If we were a year out from Rugby World Cup qualification, we would be quite disappointed with this result, but we have now set ourselves a solid baseline for the group and have three years to continue improving. 

“The players came out of this game knowing that they can dance with these teams now, which is hugely positive,” Hall added.

Hong Kong will return from Spain on Monday, 25 November.

Hong Kong Squad v Spain (November Tests v Belgium/Spain 2019):

1. Tom BRISTOW 2. Alex POST, 3. Jack PARFITT, 4. Mark PRIOR, 5. Kyle SULLIVAN, 6. James CUNNINGHAM, 7. James SAWYER, 8. Josh DOWSING, 9. Liam SLATEM (Captain), 10. Matt ROSSLEE, 11. Harry SAYERS 12. Ben AXTEN-BURRETT, 13. Guy SPANTON, 14. Seb BRIEN, 15. Nathan DE THIERRY, 16. Mitch ANDREWS, 17. Dan BARLOW, 18. Faizal SOLOMONA, 19. Lawrence MILLER, 20. Sam TSOI Kin-san, 21. Bryn PHILLIPS, 22. Lewis WARNER, 23. Paul ALTIER