SEVENS SQUADS IN CONTENTION AFTER OPENING DAY OF ASIA RUGBY SEVENS IN KOREA

31 Aug 2019

Hong Kong’s men’s and women’s sevens teams are in contention for cup runs after the opening day of Asia Rugby Sevens Series action in Incheon.  

The men put in a clinical performance in dispatching Chinese Taipei and the Philippines to top Pool B overnight, while the women split their games, beating Sri Lanka but losing to Japan, to finish as runners-up in Pool C. Both teams have a final pool round match tomorrow morning with the men facing off against the hosts and the women playing Series newcomers Malaysia.

A stacked men’s team made their intensions exceedingly clear with a 62-0 win over Taipei in the opener. Six of the seven starters scored tries in the first half as a rampant Hong Kong built a 40-0 lead after seven minutes.  

The second stanza was more of the same as Hong Kong squeezed Taipei further - fuelled by the addition of playmakers Jack Neville and Tom McQueen off the bench, while Kane Boucaut, Lee Jones and Toby Fenn ensured Hong Kong retained the majority of possession down the stretch.  Fly half Russell Webb and Boucaut led all scorers with a brace apiece as Hong Kong ran the try-count to ten in the 62-0 rout.

Up next was an intriguing early season clash with the Philippines, an emerging threat in Asian sevens.

Hong Kong passed the test with flying colours after once again dominating possession in the first half. A sturdy Philippine defence managed to limit the damage to just ten points, and Hong Kong could have already felt hard done by with that result, had the Volcanoes not scored in extra time to close the gap to 10-5 and add pressure on the second half.

Salom Yiu Kam-shing provided the safety valve early on when he caught the defence flat-footed, scoring from a clever halfback keeper to edge Hong Kong’s lead back into comfortable territory at 15-5.

The defence was again ruthless, as Hong Kong’s bench depth again made the difference with Cado Lee, Fenn, Neville and McQueen harrying the Volcanoes incessantly down the stretch. A forward’s try from hooker Mike Coverdale late brought the final to 20-5.

Hong Kong face hosts and perennial threats South Korea in the final pool match tomorrow morning. A win would see them through to the cup semi-finals as top seeds where they would likely face China, while a loss would see a similar placing but on the other side of the bracket with a match against likely Pool A top seeds Japan.

 

Coach Paul John was understandably pleased with the team’s first hit-out of the year saying, “It was a good start today and the boys obviously clicked early on in that game against Chines Taipei. It was good to get that test in against the Philippines, it was a very physical game and we were delighted to have it, given that we have to play Korea tomorrow morning.

“The boys are really working hared for each other and I thought we got better and better as the day went on,” added John.

That steady improvement will be needed tomorrow as Hong Kong remain understandably wary of the threat from the hosts; “They can be a different side at home and we know that. They will want us to play into their hands and to get dragged into that physical game to slow things down,” John added.

The women’s opening win over Sri Lanka offered some positive omens for the season ahead with captain Melody Li scoring a tone setting try early on as she put in some hard graft to finish from behind the gain-line.

Other try-scorers in the first half included 17-year old debutant Florence Symonds and Natasha Olson-Thorne, who proved she hasn’t lost a step after coming back from injury to score tries on either sides of half-time in the 33-10 win.

Olson-Thorne collected her third try in the opening minutes against Japan as Hong Kong shot out to a 5-0 lead after pinning next year’s Olympic hosts deep in their own half with some aggressive rush defence.  Amy Pyle, another of the side’s emerging Age Grade graduates, was instrumental early on with some key tackles on Japan’s 22-metre line overturning Japan’s physical ball carriers.

As they so often do, Japan adjusted well and capitalized on some over commitment by the Hong Kong defence at the ensuing re-start to scamper away for a long-range try, forcing cracks in the defence which they exploited twice more to lead 19-5 at the break.  

The second half was more of the same and coach Iain Monagahan soon opted to use the opportunity to expose his younger charges against Asia’s best as Pyle, Jess Eden and Florence Symonds all saw significant time, with Symonds coming up with a sensational try-saving tackle in the second half.

“Some highs, some lows,” said coach Iain Monaghan after the day’s mixed outing.

“It was a bit of a learning match against Japan again. They are the team we regularly look at to learn from and we will take what we did well from that game as a benchmark for tomorrow.

“We needed to have a bit more cohesion in our support play and at the contact area against Japan, but all of the teams were hugely impressive today, and much better from when we last watched them, as are we… It just goes to show how quickly you have to keep improving at this level.

“The girls are bit disappointed after the Japan game, but our approach is that we have three more games of benchmarking tomorrow, and that's our focus, getting in three games, which means reaching the final.

“We believe in ourselves and are working hard as a team and are keen to demonstrate that again tomorrow,” he said.

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