04 Jun 2016

Hong Kong claimed second place in Asia for a third consecutive season after a comprehensive 41-15 win over South Korea in the final round of the 2016 Asia Rugby Championship at Hong Kong Football Club.

Hong Kong’s five try performance secured second place for the hosts with 10 points on the table after the sweep of South Korea was offset by two losses to runaway champions Japan. Japan finished top of the pops for a twelfth straight year with four wins and 20 points while South Korea recorded its first winless Asia Rugby Championship season, finishing with just two bonus points from four losses.

Hong Kong looked the better side throughout the match, pressurising the South Koreans with a swarming defence that kept the visitors off-balance.

Despite conceding the lion’s share of territory and possession in the opening half, it was Korea that scored first with winger Lee Soop-yeong finishing off a nice move across the backline to touch down in the right corner. Lee’s conversion of his own try gave Korea a 7-0 lead against the run of play.

Moments later, Hong Kong flyhalf Ben Rimene, who scored the late game-winning try in Incheon in the away leg between the two sides, continued his impressive run in the tournament with a sublime solo effort, ghosting through the heart of the Korean defence before sprinting away for the final 30 metres to score beneath the posts. Rimene’s conversion levelled the score at seven-all.

In the 20th minute Rimene slotted a penalty giving Hong Kong their first lead at 10-7. Rimene was once again on-song with the boot this afternoon, turning in a perfect performance with five conversions, a penalty and a drop goal - complimenting his try, for a total of 21 points on the afternoon.

Typically the Koreans came charging back, establishing a pattern of long kicks to touch, controlled line-out wins and driving mauls to put Hong Kong under pressure. Hooker Kim Min-kyu eventually caught the defence out as he snuck off the back of a driving maul to cross over against little resistance. Lee’s missed conversion left Korea clinging to a 12-10 lead.

Hong Kong responded with a morale-sapping riposte from flanker Toby Fenn, who showed great open-field running ability to wrong-foot the Korean defence and charge away for a 40-metre try. Rimene’s conversion from in front of the posts was a formality as Hong Kong pushed ahead 17-12.

Doggedly sticking to their ten-man rugby tactics, Korea earned another scoring opportunity with Lee slotting a penalty to narrow the gap to 17-15 with four minutes left in the half.

Korea had another late opportunity but Lee’s kicking from hand proved disastrous as he over-boiled the placement of a penalty kick to touch, sending the ball instead soaring past the dead ball line to cede possession to Hong Kong. It would be the first in a series of miscues for the visitors.

Hong Kong didn’t squander Lee’s gift as they scored their third try of the half in injury time. This time it was scrum-half Jamie Hood who created the upfront space, showing a clean pair of heels to reach the second level of the Korean defence. Hood carried for 70 metres before off-loading to winger Ryan Meacheam for the try. Rimene’s conversion from the touch-line was masterful, sending Hong Kong into the break with a tidy 24-15 lead.

The second half started much like the first ended, with the Korean miscues continuing, including yet another over-boiled kick from hand by Lee that crossed the dead-ball line to give Hong Kong back the ball.

And it was Meacheam again who made the Koreans pay for their inconsistent effort as he collected his brace in the 47th minute. Rimene once again started the movement with another scything run creating space for the fly-half, who offloaded to fullback Alex McQueen whose deft pass added width to the attack, putting Meacheam in for the try on the overlap and extending Hong Kong’s margin to 31-15.

The mounting mistakes flustered a young Korean side while Hong Kong gained momentum and self-belief over the final quarter. Mid-way through the half, Hong Kong went down a man after replacement centre Lex Kaleca was sin-binned by Japanese ref Nori Hashimoto.

Rimene would add a drop goal in the 30th minute to bring the score to 34-15, before wing Jamie Robinson capped the afternoon with Hong Kong’s fifth try as the hosts queued up for wave after wave of attacks in the final ten minutes. Rimene’s fifth conversion settled the match at 41-15.

Hong Kong also marked a changing of the guard of sorts as lock Paul Dwyer came off for Finlay Field in the 62nd minute after announcing his retirement from international rugby shortly before the match.

Dwyer, who has anchored the Hong Kong pack for the past four years, including captaining the side on several occasions, concludes a distinguished career after picking up his first cap in 2013 against Belgium.

The 20-year Field meanwhile marked his first international cap in front of a supportive home audience that included his father Richard, a former Hong Kong international and captain.

Former Hong Kong and current South Korea coach John Walters - in his first season with the team - was disappointed by the result.

“We made too many mistakes. We couldn’t win our set piece and our kicking was poor. We just couldn’t get in the game. You can’t build pressure when you can’t hold on to the ball or win your set piece. We are young, but there are no excuses for not holding on to the ball. We trained well this week but we need to make sure we put that on the pitch. We were building nicely and were hoping today would be our best performance of the campaign, but unfortunately it was our worst,” added Walters.

Hong Kong coach Leigh Jones meanwhile was pleased to see everything his side had focused on over the past few weeks come together nicely. “The score flattered us probably because that was a tough test. They fought for everything. All campaign we have said that if our set piece could function we could beat anyone. I think our set piece improved significantly this afternoon and we were then able to take our chances when we had them.

“I’m delighted for Paul [Dwyer] that we could send him off with a win. He has been a great servant and ambassador for Hong Kong rugby and I’m excited for Fin [Field]. He is definitely one for the future,” Jones concluded.

Hong Kong squad v South Korea (4 June)

1. Benjamin HIGGINS 2. Lachlan CHUBB 3. Jack PARFITT 4. Adrian GRIFFITHS 5. Paul DWYER 6. Nicholas HEWSON © 7. Toby FENN 8. Dan FALVEY 9. Jamie HOOD 10. Ben RIMENE 11. Salom YIU Kam-shing 12. Tyler SPITZ 13. James ROBINSON 14. Ryan MEACHEAM 15. Alex McQUEEN 16. Jamie TSANG 17. Adam FULLGRABE 18. Alex NG Wai Shing 19. Finlay FIELD 20. James CUNNINGHAM 21. Cado LEE Ka-to, 22. Lex KALECA 23. Niall ROWARK