20 Dec 2015

The Spanish national women’s rugby team beat Hong Kong 57-0 yesterday in Madrid to sweep the first ever series between the two teams. Spain beat Hong Kong 59-12 in the opening match on 15 December.

Despite a score line that was less flattering than the opening encounter, Hong Kong’s performance was much improved in yesterday’s official test match. Unfortunately for the visitors, the Spanish XV also clearly understood the importance of the tie, and upped their intensity to a level unseen in the opening encounter – blitzing Hong Kong with nine unanswered tries on the day.

Spain entertained their home support with an impressive 80 minutes of frenzied physicality in a game that was played at admirable pace by both sides. While Hong Kong’s offense was effectively stymied, defensively it was a much-improved result with all of the team committed to the effort.

In the end, Spain simply proved too big, too fast and too skillful – underscoring the experience gap between the two sides with Spain having played in multiple Women’s Rugby World Cups and over 120 test matches.

Spain brought all of their size, physicality and speed across the line into play on a surprisingly sunny and firm ground for Madrid in December.

The unrelenting onslaught made Hong Kong’s determined defensive display that much more impressive on the day, as did the fact that prime offensive threat Aggie Poon Pak Yan was out due to injury. Poon’s replacement at fullback, Adrienne Garvey, had a solid outing, putting in some memorable tackles to halt the frequent Spanish attacks.

Captain Chow Mei Nam once again led from the front in a superb effort that was cut short in the first half due to injury but it was simply next woman up for Hong Kong throughout the encounter. The team effort was encouraging with some of the team’s most recognisable stars having quiet afternoons.

Spain demonstrated their intent to put Hong Kong to the sword from the opening kick-off when they opted for a scrum on Hong Kong’s 22-metre line despite having a perfectly kickable penalty opportunity. Hong Kong’s scrum and defence held on that occasion – as it did throughout much of the first half – but it was the first of what would ultimately be too many attacking forays for the hosts on the afternoon. Somehow Hong Kong withstood Spain’s frenzied attack for the first 30 minutes, allowing only 12 points to the visitors in an excellent defensive performance.

Despite not having the chance to show much offensively, Hong Kong had sustained periods of possession – demonstrating a vastly improved structure from day one. Most impressive was the fact that these patches of possession invariably came as Hong Kong tried to work the ball from deep in its own half, showing excellent composure while doing so.

Ultimately the size and physical intensity of the Spanish defence proved too strong and the constant pressure lead to some loose passing on occasion that turned over Hong Kong’s possession. With the pace and frequency of Spain’s attack it was always a question of how long Hong Kong could hold and ultimately the levee broke, as Spain crossed over for two more tries in quick succession shortly before halftime, giving the hosts a 24-0 lead at the break.

Spain crossed over for five tries in the second half with flanker Paula Medin collecting a brace and scrumhalf Patricia Garcia adding six conversions and a fine solo try to help Spain reach its total of 57-0.

Considering Spain’s pedigree the team’s improvement was more obvious than the score line indicated.

“We improved both individually and collectively from the first game to yesterday, in particular our defence in the tighter channels as well as our overall game structure,” said Hull.

The original idea behind the test series was to gauge Hong Kong’s strength outside of the region and that objective was achieved. While there still remains much to improve on that front, Hong Kong’s performance yesterday bodes well for next season’s Asia Rugby Championship matches against Kazakhstan and Japan.

In fact, Spain were an ideal opponent for Hong Kong, matching the solid tactical skills, pace and ball handling of Japan with the direct physical engagement of Kazakhstan. One senses that the true results of the Spain series are likely only to be seen in next season’s Asia Rugby Women’s Championship in April.

Coach Hull agrees: “Spain has been a huge learning and development opportunity for the team and we will use this as a starting point for the 2016 Asian championships and build from there.

“I’m proud of the players. They showed great character and a real understanding of what is required to play at this level. Whilst we did show some improvement match to match, this week has been useful to highlight what is needed in the longer-term for us to play at this level,” added Hull.

With Hong Kong having marked its first ever test against non-Asian opposition, the squad will no doubt be hungry for the chance to put the lessons learned from Madrid into action in Asia and once again on the world stage

Hong Kong squad v Spain (19 December):

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