07 May 2016

The Hong Kong Women’s XV lost to Japan 39-3 today at Hong Kong Football Club in the first of a home and away series to decide the Asia Rugby Women’s Championship 2016.

A four-try first half saw the Sakura using their impressive pace to create space repeatedly on the edges of Hong Kong’s defensive line. Japan’s opening try came in the first minute with winger Honoka Tsutsumi finding ample space off a simple overlap to cross over untouched in the corner. Captain Ai Tasaka’s conversion from the touchline was unsuccessful, setting a disappointing pattern for the kicker who would miss six of eight conversion and penalty attempts on the day.

Hong Kong then enjoyed its best patch of the game with a sustained effort of possession and territory, keeping Japan penned in behind their 22-metre line for a ten-minute stretch. Hong Kong’s pressure earned a kickable penalty attempt but the hosts opted instead for the quick tap and run turning over possession deep in Japan’s half.

Hong Kong wouldn’t get its hands on the ball for significant periods for the rest of the match as the

forwards struggled to set a positive platform. The host team’s ball-carriers were frequently met by a determined Japan defence that snuffed out any attacking opportunities before they could start.

While holding their own in the scrum, Hong Kong lost five line-outs in the first half, further damaging their ability to build successful phases in attack. The remainder of the opening half saw Hong Kong on the back foot defensively.

In the 22nd minute, Japan captain Tasaka picked an excellent running line from fullback to enter the backline at pace and against the direction of Hong Kong’s drift defence, creating space for a 30 metre try. Tasaka converted her solo effort to give Japan a 14-0 lead. Two further first half tries from winger Eriko Hirano in the 22nd minute and No.8 Misaki Suzuki gave the visitors a commanding 22-0 lead and secured the bonus point for Japan in the first half.

Hong Kong’s only reply came from a penalty in the 30th minute by winger Aggie Poon Pak Yan, who came off injured in the second half, bringing the score to Japan 22-3 at halftime.

With Hong Kong unable to establish an attacking platform and the margin of defeat continuing to mount, the hosts turned to dogged defence in the second half. Hong Kong made 80 tackles in the match, with centre Natasha Olson-Thorne leading by example with some emphatic hits that provided one of the few bright spots in Hong Kong’s defensive effort.

Japan started the second half strongly, putting the hosts under pressure from the outset as Hong Kong threw everything into maintaining their defensive line and keeping the scoring down. Hong Kong’s hopes of keeping a clean sheet after the break held until the final ten minutes when a raft of substitutions saw errors creep in on both sides. Angela Chan Ka Yan and Sharon Tsang Shin Yuen both marked first caps for Hong Kong this afternoon.

Japan took advantage of the disarray, exploding for three late tries in quick succession with centre Miki Terauchi scoring in the 72nd minute after another long break down the outside saw the Hong Kong defence conceding numbers out wide. Captain Tasaka collected her brace in the 72nd minute, converting her own try from in front of the posts, before lock Ai Hyugaji closed the scoring with a try at the hooter to give Japan the 39-3 victory after the missed conversion.

“It was a tough day at the office,” commented Hong Kong coach Jo Hull after her first test match against Japan, adding that, “Japan came out really strong and fast and with their fitness and skills they executed better than us under pressure. In the second half we held them at nil-nil for a good thirty minutes but at the end of the day we didn’t execute under pressure and we’re disappointed with that. The breakdown area really hurt us today and we didn't keep our defensive structures in the first half. We just put ourselves under too much pressure.

Hull noted that despite the score line there was some positives to build on for the away leg: “There were some things in the second half we can build on and I’m really proud of the girls. Nothing changes there. This is the first game in what will be a very long international season for us so we just have to continue working hard.”

Hong Kong will travel to Singapore for a test match next Saturday with the away leg against Japan on 28 May in Tokyo.