02nd Jul 2024

World Rugby U20 Trophy

  • Tuesday 2 July: Japan 105-20 Hong Kong China
  • Sunday 7 July: Scotland vs Hong Kong China (14:30 local time / 21:30 HKT)
  • Friday 12 July: Samoa vs Hong Kong China (11:45 local time / 18:45 HKT)
  • Wednesday 17 July: Knockout Stage (match TBD)

The opening clash of the World Rugby U20 Trophy saw Asian Pool A contenders Hong Kong China and Japan play at the Hive Stadium in Edinburgh on Tuesday 2nd July. This was the first international World Rugby tournament fixture between the two, and the Japanese finished 105-20 winners.

The Japanese are among the tournament favourites based on their record in the U20 Trophy and were playing the second-tier U20s competition after coming last in the World Rugby U20 Championship 2023 in South Africa, while Hong Kong China qualified after winning the Asia Rugby Championship (ARC) U19 tournament in late 2023. 

Since December, Japan have competed in 11 competitive matches and most of the Japanese squad featured in the Japan XV who won the World Rugby Pacific Challenge 2024 title beating Manuma Samoa, Fiji Warriors and Tonga A in Samoa. They scored an average of 50+ points per game in that tournament, while this was the first match for the Hong Kong China side since the ARC U19.

Hong Kong China U20 Head Coach Joe Barker said, “We managed to show signs of positive play and the fact we scored 20 points versus a tier-one nation shows there are signs we are there, and we can perform at this stage, but now we need to find a way to do that for 80 minutes which is the biggest challenge.”

Japan Strong In Opening Half

In a rain-impacted match, Hong Kong China struggled at times against the Japanese maul attacks from lineouts, while the Japanese also showed great slick hands and crossed the whitewash first and early through prop Towa Nunobiki in the second minute. The Japanese added a second unconverted try with right-wing Kent Iioka after Hong Kong China’s centre Isaac Campbell-Wu was sent to the sin bin with a yellow card. Japan made the most of the extra player and scored two more tries to lead with a bonus point after the first quarter, justifying their status as one of the pre-tournament favourites.  

Jingo Takenoshita added the 5th try for a 27-0 lead but Hong Kong China struck back for their first points within minutes as number eight Don Hedley crashed over to get HKCR on the board with the conversion missed in the 24th minute, with flyhalf Blake Elliot adding a penalty thereafter to make it 27-8. 

Japan earned penalties from some HKCR indiscipline which saw prop Sojiro Itsuka add to the tally from another maul to lead 32-8. An excellent lineout move from Hong Kong China and some quick hands in the centres saw Marcus D’Acre score a wonderful converted try from Elliot to close the score to 32-15 before the halftime break.

Hong Kong China created opportunities but the Japanese pack had the better of the set piece at scrum time and they powered over with a driving maul for a 7th try for a 39-15 lead at halftime in what was an entertaining half with dynamic play that saw the two teams notch up nine tries in total.

Hong Kong China Embrace The Experience 

The second half saw Japan extend their lead, scoring 10 more tries, with Kent Iioka grabbing four, and hooker Kenshin Shimizu a hat-trick.

Hong Kong China did break the Japanese line as the game opened up but the Japanese also found their way through and managed to convert their chances better.

Although Japan was the runaway winner, this is an opportunity for players such as Stephen Webb (former Canada U18 rep on debut for Hong Kong China) and others such as Callum Fitzhenry who will study in Cardiff after the tournament, to experience international age-grade rugby for the representative side. Camill Cheung, who was test-capped in the ARMC this season, came on in the last quarter and is another fine example of the pathway development.

Late in the game, Elliot nearly converted an interception but Justin Eden managed to score on the outside edge after some good ball retention and phase play to make it a 91-20 score with less than ten minutes to go, but the Japanese added the final points to breach the century mark. 

Barker added on what it means to be playing at this level for player development and how they can close the gap on other teams by saying, “It is a huge element of a pathway development to expose the players to this level of standard, and today has highlighted that. The more we can put the players under this pressure and intense situations, it will grow them as rugby players and people.

“Being on this stage as well, broadcast by RugbyPassTV which is streamed around the world and for people to access that and see the game is huge for Hong Kong China. It shows the role models on the world stage and that if we go through tough pressure and tough times, we can come through it if we stay in the match and keep performing.” 

Hong Kong China has competed at every World Rugby U20 Trophy tournament since 2014 managing a best finish of sixth in 2018, whereas the Japanese have won the Trophy tournament three times previously and finished runner-up three times. 

Hong Kong China U20s next face Scotland on Sunday 7 July at 21:30 HKT and the Head Coach concluded, “I think we need to look at ourselves here and how each player can improve upon their performance, but more importantly how we recover and recover properly. We need to understand how we can quickly recover in four days and perform again at that standard against another top nation. 

“It will be a challenge for this group as they have not been exposed to this before but they are keen to dive into it and see how they can learn from this and how we move forward individually and as a team.”

Our Asia Rugby Championship match previews and reports are posted in collaboration with our good friends at RugbyAsia247 – check them out for all the latest Asia Rugby news!