19 Dec 2018

The Hong Kong U19s men’s team dug its way out of a deep hole to win the Asia Rugby U19s championship in Chinese Taipei, beating the hosts 38-5 yesterday to claim a sixth straight title.  The win also qualifies Hong Kong for the 2019 World Rugby U20 Trophy next July in Brazil, in what will be Hong Kong’s sixth appearance at the junior age grade world championships.

After losing its opening game to South Korea, Hong Kong needed to win out with bonus points over Sri Lanka and Taipei.  Ahead of yesterday’s decider Hong Kong had to secure the bonus point and also to keep Chinese Taipei out of the bonus to clinch the title.  Despite the imposing task, Hong Kong left no doubt of the result, with a five-try win as they grew a 21-5 lead at the break into a comprehensive 38-5 final margin.

Coach Stephen Dowse commented post-match saying, “We played our best rugby of the tournament against Taipei, and it was a real team effort. We’ve used the full 27-man squad and it was great to see the young guys stepping up.

“We were without six or seven front-line players, so to have a couple of 16 and 17 year olds like Toby Jurecka and Max Walker not just come in, but set a marker, really, about how they can perform at this level - and in what was quite a high pressure occasion, was fantastic.”

Hong Kong came flying out of the blocks, punishing Taipei with three first half tries built off of a dominant effort by the forwards, particularly at the scrum, with Hong Kong pressurising Taiwan on every engagement.

No.8 Jurecka led all try-scorers with two, the first coming in the 11th minute from a Taipei scrum in their own half. Flanker Oliver Overmann expertly poached the scrumhalf’s scrambling pass inside to set up a 30-metre sprint. The rest of the back row piled on in the loose and the ball was produced quickly for Jurecka to score three phases later. Fullback Paul Altier’s conversion was good as Hong Kong led 7-0. 

Taipei capitalized on its next foray into Hong Kong territory scoring their only try to close the gap to 7-5, but they would never threaten the result again.

Hong Kong were then gifted possession after Taipei flubbed the re-start and were forced into conceding a penalty deep in their half.  Opting for the scrum, the forwards once again crumbled the Taipei pack. The hosts’ exterior defence was solid, but flanker Max Walker put in a key carry from a near standing start to drag three defenders to the try-line and create space for Overman, who scored under the posts. Altier’s conversion pushed Hong Kong further ahead, 14-5.

Hong Kong scored a third time before the half as Altier came up with the goods on a fine individual effort when he spotted a gap in the defence and recovered his own chip and chase for the score. His conversion brought Hong Kong’s lead to 20-5 at the break.

Needing another try in the second half, and to maintain the defensive status quo, Hong Kong would actually add three scores after the break while also shutting out the hosts in a clinical display.

The bonus point try came from of one of the team’s favourite attacking maneuvers, the rolling maul from an attacking line-out.  Hooker Callum Tam controlled the ball well at the base as Hong Kong used its physical advantage to muscle over, extending the lead to 26-5 after Altier’s missed conversion.

Jurecka claimed his brace on the hour marker with winger Liam Doherty adding the icing on the cake with a try in the dying seconds as Hong Kong pushed the final margin to 33-5.

For Dowse, the victory is a stepping-stone for Hong Kong’s continued progression, “winning this tournament is fantastic in and of itself, but it’s what it allows us to progress to that is the biggest prize.”

That step will take them all the way to Brazil next summer for a sixth straight appearance at the U20 Trophy. 

“We have a lot to work on between now and then, of course. At that level you need a good set piece. We have a good platform now, but it’s something we want to continue to strengthen. We also need to improve our execution. At the World Trophy, you don’t get many opportunities so when you do, you need to take them - that will be a key for us.”

Strength in depth is equally essential and the competition just past has provided another opportunity to develop that:  “This tournament has been great because we’ve been able to blood more young guys. The next step is having a wide squad of players, so the New Year’s Day tournament will be really important for us as an opportunity to look at other guys and see whether there are more new players ready to step up at this level,” Dowse added.