23 Jul 2019

Hong Kong lost a nail-biter in the seventh place play-off at the World Rugby U20 Trophy tournament to the hosts on Sunday night in Sao Paolo, Brazil, losing 32-29 in extra time.   

The fourth straight loss for Hong Kong at the competition sees them finish in eighth place in 2019, with a single point from their four matches, a bonus collected for the loss within a try margin to Brazil.  

Japan beat last year’s bronze medallists Portugal, 35-34, in the final on a day of close-run affairs to book their return to the tier one World Rugby U20 Championship next year.   

With an edge in experience, although not size, on Brazil, the nature of the extra time loss will mean added disappointment for the squad, particularly given their strong start to the match with Hong Kong first off the board after a try from centre Kyle Kitney, his second of the tournament, after just nine minutes.

Brazil gifted Hong Kong a perfect start after they bobbled the kick-off in the shadow of their posts.  Hong Kong went to work on the Brazil defence early on, soon forcing a penalty chance for captain Paul Altier, whose shot from 25 metres in the second minute drifted left of the posts.

Altier capped a fine individual performance in Brazil with another standout showing yesterday, making amends for his early missed penalty with some excellent set-up work moments later as he wove in and out of the Brazil defence to create space for Kitney to score as Hong Kong took a 5-0 lead after nine minutes.

Defence has been the Achilles heel for the side in South America, with Hong Kong finishing the tournament with the worst points differential of either group, albeit playing in the more experienced pool alongside U20 Trophy fixtures Portugal, Tonga and Canada.

One on one tackling has particularly proven to be a challenge on the hard grounds in Sao Paolo, and Brazil highlighted this defect on a few occasions with their first long range try coming after 12 minutes to put them on the board at 5-5.

Altier took matters into his own hands moments later when he backed himself on a kick and chase effort from the halfway line. He outran the opposite field defence to touch down in the corner, converting his own score to give Hong Kong a 12-7 lead after 20 minutes.

Once again individual errors crept into Hong Kong’s game at inopportune moments, as they left some scoring chances on the ground late in the game, before conceding another damaging scoring spurt to Brazil, who added two more tries in the final ten minutes to reclaim the lead at 19-12.

It was the closest halftime margin that Hong Kong have seen in this year’s competition and the squad were keen to close the gap and secure Hong Kong’s second ever win at this level after breaking the duck in 2018.

Any momentum was derailed from the outset with a questionable yellow card for a high tackle handed to hooker Callum Tam shortly after the re-start.  Brazil eventually wore down Hong Kong’s forwards with their man advantage, capitalizing on the sin binning with a try in the 47th minute to push the lead to 24-12.

Altier kept Brazil in check with his first penalty in the 53rd minute as Hong Kong clawed back to 24-15.

A tense ten minutes followed as both coaching staffs emptied their benches for the final push. The game quickly opened up with the replacements on but neither side were able to convert opportunities created until flanker Joe Knight ended up on the bottom of a strong driving maul by Hong Kong to score in the 63rd minute.

Altier’s pressure cooker conversion trimmed Brazil’s lead to 24-22 with 15 minutes remaining, but Brazilian flanker Rafael Dos Santos turned the tables on Hong Kong with a 25-metre stroll through the defence to score in the 71st minute as Brazil increased its lead to 29-22.

Hong Kong were given an unexpected reprieve after the conversion that would have sealed Brazil’s win was missed, giving Altier and his crew one last chance to steal the win.

It looked like Hong Kong were on their way when prop Rory McGrory ended up at the bottom of another successful lineout attack in the 78th minute the close-in lineout to bring the score to 29-27.

Altier had ice water in his veins when he slotted the conversion in the 80th minute to send the match into extra time and it looked as if Hong Kong’s experience would see them clear of the hosts on their inaugural World Rugby U20 competition.

But credit to Brazil, they marshalled the ball well in extra time, opting for the deep kick-off to limit Hong Kong’s options on attack.  Hong Kong were forced to put the ball into touch and Brazil never relinquished possession from the final line-out, edging down pitch to set up the successful drop goal attempt for fly half Ferrer Spago as Brazil ran out extra time winners, 32-29.