06 Sep 2017

The Hong Kong U20s fought back from an 18-3 deficit in the second half to nearly upend Portugal in their pool match yesterday at the Estadio Charrua in Montevideo, Uruguay, site of this year’s World Rugby U20 Trophy.

Hong Kong clawed to within one point of the lead with minutes left to play before two late penalties sealed the win for the European U19s champions 31-24.

The narrow loss marked an improved performance for Hong Kong from their round one loss to Fiji, but coach Andrew Hall bemoaned a poor first half that hurt his side’s chances of claiming a win against the European champions.

“It was a far better performance from Fiji. The collective improvement was pleasing but the reality is that individual errors cost us that game; the penalties we conceded, our support kicking, simple and unforced errors in our handling.

“They are a strong side. They took their chances when they were in our territory, but they weren’t overly creative. We allowed them those chances. We might get away with that in Asia, but we won’t here,” said Hall.

Portugal opened the scoring with a try along the wing in the eleventh minute, followed by the first of four penalties struck by fly-half Jorge Abecassis, one of five players in the Portugal squad that has been capped for the national team.

Fullback Paul Altier missed a chance to reply with a penalty in the 24th minute but converted on his second opportunity three minutes later to bring Hong Kong to within a try, down 8-3.

The Portuguese scrum posed problems for Hong Kong before producing the side’s second try after an eight-man shove carried the enemy No.8 across the line, giving Portugal a 15-3 lead after the conversion.

Later in the match, Hong Kong would concede a penalty try for collapsing the scrum on the line.

“Our scrum was okay and our line-out was much improved. Portugal are strong up front and it was always going to be tough, but we have got to get used to it, because we've got Uruguay next, which will be a similar challenge,” Hall said.

Portugal opened the second half with another Abecassis penalty to extend the lead to 18-3 before Hong Kong mounted its fight back. Hooker Jack Scanlon scored the first try in the 50th minute with Matt Worley, who had come on at the break at fly-half, slotting the conversion to close the gap to 18-10.

The penalty try minutes later pushed Portugal’s lead back out to 15, at 25-10 entering the final quarter.

Upping the tempo, Hong Kong scored late tries from winger Oliver Duffy and Worley, who slotted both conversions to put Hong Kong on the brink of victory, trailing 25-24 with three minutes remaining.

“We wanted to put the ball in play and we wanted to force a quicker game and that showed in the second half. They started to tire at the end while we finished strong which is positive. At the end, they were delighted to scrum the game out and work off of their driving lineout,” he added.

Errors ultimately told the story of the day however as Abecassis struck twice in the final three minutes to give the Europeans an unassailable buffer as they ran out winners 31-24.

Coach Hall will be looking for a more accurate performance when his side faces an experienced Uruguay fifteen on their next outing.

“We need to take our opportunities better. We had three clear-cut opportunities and we need to take them when we can.

“It was a great performance to come back, but it’s still not good enough at this level and now we have just got to kick on,” Hall said.