Conor Hartley hat-trick highlights bonus point 6-try mauling

08 Jun 2019

It took Hong Kong all of 20 minutes to ease into their Asia Rugby title defence as they overpowered South Korea 47-10 today in Incheon.

The six-try, bonus point win marked Hong Kong’s first victory under new head coach Andy Hall and came despite South Korea having swept Malaysia ahead of Hong Kong’s entry into the tournament.

With a squad featuring three new caps and several players in their first test against Asian opponents it took a few minutes for Hong Kong to settle, but they soon found their footing and grew into the occasion, ultimately expanding a 14-10 half-time lead into the convincing win.

Wing Conor Hartley led all scorers with three tries, while wing Harry Sayers and fullback Paul Altier scored on their debut and Dayne Jans also horned in on the action.  Centre Matt Rosslee had a near-perfect outing with the boot as he struck three penalties and four conversions on the day.

Hall was pleased to have his first win under his belt and for the squad to have their first test victory since the disappointment of the Rugby World Cup repechage last November.

“It’s always nice to get a win, especially with some big shoes to fill,” said Hall, who had called for the team to put a marker in the sand in Asia ahead of today’s match.

“We really responded to that today, especially with that second half. Our forwards deserve a lot of credit. Our scrum was a weapon today for us against Korea, particularly early on, and that gave us a good attacking platform.”

The pack set up Hong Kong’s first scoring opportunity in the fourth minute when they blew up the hosts’ forwards in the game’s opening scrum, gifting Rosslee his first chance of the day, which he buried.  

Korea replied immediately with their only try of the match, as they capitalised off the sliver of daylight allowed by the defence to pierce the try-line after seven minutes, claiming the lead 7-3.

Rosslee replied with a second penalty after 15 minutes to pull matters back to within a point at 7-6, before Hong Kong’s first try-scoring opportunity came five minutes later off an attacking lineout on Korea’s 10-metre line.  The attacking lineout is one of Hong Kong’s go-to attacking weapons, but Korea managed to disrupt the driving maul.

Hong Kong shifted gears and produced some good chaos rugby that eventually saw lock Fin Field flick an overhead basketball pass out wide for Conor Hartley who smashed over for the score. Rosslee’s conversion handed Hong Kong back the lead at 11-7.

Rosslee and fly half Han Gumin exchanged penalties down the stretch, with Han missing a second penalty shot that would have given Korea the lead, while Rosslee kept his cool to put Hong Kong ahead at the break, 14-10.

A Korean miscue to start the second half gave Hong Kong possession in a strong attacking position. The pressure told quickly as Hartley picked a devastating line to crash over for his second close range score. Rosslee’s conversion pushed Hong Kong’s lead to 21-10 after 50 minutes.

The floodgates then opened as Hong Kong scored twice more in the next ten minutes, with both of the debutants in the back three crossing the whitewash.  First Sayers made his splash with a change of direction break that led to a 40-metre try and a 28-10 lead after Rosslee’s conversion.  Moments later, Altier was on hand to finish another positive attack with a try in the corner, as Hong Kong extended the lead to 35-10 with 20 minutes left.

The forwards got on the score sheet in the 70th minute when hooker Dayne Jans ultimately trundled the ball over the line to convert the attacking lineout. In the 80th minute, Hartley strolled through some flailing arm tackles to complete his hat trick and bring the final score to 47-10.

Hall was pleased with his side’s clinical display in the second half, saying, “We talked a lot about taking our opportunities at half-time and I was pleased that we executed that. Paul and Harry both scored on their debut, which is an important bit of confidence for those back three players.

“Conor had a great game as well; beyond the tries, he really showed a lot of maturity in his game today and led the young guys in the back row well.

“It’s a good start and we have a bit of momentum now, but we have Malaysia next week and that is a quick turnaround, said Hall.

“We need to get home and get into things quickly. Malaysia are much improved and have some shock value. They have the potential to surprise us if we don’t get our approach correct,” Hall added.

Today’s win sees Hong Kong leapfrog Malaysia into second place on the leader board with five points.  Korea are on top on ten points after their two bonus point wins over Malaysia.