16 Dec 2015

The Hong Kong Rugby Union National Women’s XVs lost 59-12 to Spain yesterday (15 Dec.) in its first ever test match against a non-Asian opponent. Hong Kong will have a chance at redemption in the second test on Saturday, 19 December, in Madrid.

The result was as expected for Hong Kong on its first non-Asian international outing against Spain - a team that has qualified for five Women’s Rugby World Cups and was playing in its 121st test match yesterday.

After the match, Hong Kong Coach Jo Hull said, “It was obviously a tough score line, but going into this series our focus is squarely on us as a team and our individual and collective performance goals. This is how we will measure our success and the goal is clear now in how we improve from the first match to Saturday, and how we adapt to a much faster and more physical game of rugby like we saw from Spain.

“This week is about building for the future, and to do that we need to expose ourselves at this level internationally,” Hull added.

The biggest questions for Hong Kong to answer ahead of Saturday were posed by the Spanish pack, which dealt most of the damage, particularly with ball in hand, as each forward carry saw Spain regularly collecting large chunks of territory. Spain’s support play was also superb, as they repeatedly sucked in the defence before releasing the ball to the backline with numerous gaps to exploit.

Hong Kong’s backs were unable to get much positive play generated until the second half, when they proved that with good ball they can equal the Spanish attack. With the set piece under significant pressure, Hong Kong’s backs were tasked with tackling for most of the match - any ball they did receive usually was attached to a sizable Spanish defender flooding into the backline.

The team’s commitment in defence was solid, although first-up tackling was an issue early in the match. Spain quickly gathered momentum early by using their forwards in space from the ruck and maul. They methodically moved the ball deep into Hong Kong’s territory scoring their first try in the 6th minute.

More tries followed, most of them scored by the Spanish pack, and Hong Kong was trailing 17-0 by the 15th minute. Spain added 14 more points in the second quarter to take a 31-0 lead at halftime.

Hong Kong responded well in the second half with Aggie Poon Pak Yan scoring early on. Poon collected the ball from a Spanish miscue on a well-placed high ball, taking cleanly before dashing 40 metres for the try. Adrienne Garvey’s conversion brought the score to 38-7. Poon later left the match injured and her availability for Saturday’s test could be in question.

Natasha Olson-Thorne, made an impact after coming on as a reserve in the second half. Her physical presence rallied the defence as she repeatedly made the solo tackles that had eluded Hong Kong for much of the match. The addition of reserve scrumhalf Chloe Mak Ho Yee was also instrumental in fueling Hong Kong’s improved performance after the break. Mak added pace to the attack and showed good tactical awareness in shifting the point of attack to unbalance the Spanish defence.

In the 70th minute, Olson-Thorne scored Hong Kong’s second try off of a fine solo effort. With the forwards cleanly claiming the ball from an attacking line out, Olson-Thorne entered the line at pace before fending her opposite number to create a gap in the defence and race away untouched for a long try. Garvey’s conversion was wide leaving Hong Kong on 12 points to Spain’s eventual 59.

Hull singled out the performances of Mak, on her international debut, and reserve prop Jasmine Cheung Shuk Han who also came on in the second half: “It was a great performance from Chloe. She will be one to watch for the future and Jasmine coming on in the second half really helped give us a physical edge as well,” said Hull.

Despite the result, there were many positives and Hull recognised the team’s continued effort on a tough outing, saying:“I’m hugely proud of the team. They showed great character, particularly in the second half when we had more possession and started to build some phases. For many of these players this is a new level of rugby; however we now need to learn, front up and get a much better start on Saturday.”

Hong Kong squad v Spain (15 December):

1. LAU Nga Wun, 2. Karen SO, 3. LEE Ka Shun, 4. CHOW Mei Nam (Captain), 5. Claire FORSTER, 6. Melody LI, 7. Christy CHENG Ka Chi, 8. Amelie SEURE, 9. SHAM Wai Sum, 10. Rebecca THOMPSON, 11. Stephanie CUVELIER, 12. Colleen TJOSVOLD, 13. Adrienne GARVEY, 14. LAU Sze Wa, 15. POON Pak Yan, 16. Royce CHAN Leong Sze, 17. CHEUNG Shuk Han, 18. Winnie SIU, 19. CHENG Ching To, 20. LO Wai Yan, 21. MAK Ho Yee, 22. Natasha OLSON-THORNE, 23. CHENG Tsz Ting.