11日 7月 2022

The Hong Kong men’s XV claimed a memorable Asia Rugby Championship 2022 title in Incheon on Saturday 9th July 2022, by beating South Korea 23-21 in the final play of the match, despite being a player down for most of the game.

A Gregor McNeish’s 80th-minute game-winning penalty means Hong Kong also importantly move on to the next stage of the Rugby World Cup 2023 Qualification pathway, setting up an enticing match against Tonga on 23 July in Australia. The coaches, staff, and players will need to assess the squad and their availability, as well as the logistics of now planning a trip down under, and knowing they are one match away from RWC qualification.

“We did not make it easy for ourselves with some of our indiscipline issues but the result shows the character in this team,” said Lewis Evans after his international coaching debut.

“Going down a man after a minute, and leading at half-time shows the quality and belief that we have in this team and our performance in the last half shows the mental resilience we have developed over the past three years. I cannot say enough about the boys today, they were outstanding,” added Evans.

Before thinking of facing Tonga, the squad and coaches will have time to enjoy and relish what has been in parts an impossible journey to field a playing squad that was capable of winning the ARC. This might have looked even more daunting when right-wing Charles Higson-Smith was shown a red card in the first minute of the match in sweltering conditions at the Namdong Asiad Rugby Stadium after he made contact with his opposing winger’s head.

It was a stark reality check of how the international rugby game had evolved considering it was the Hong Kong men's first test match since 2019. Korea last beat Hong Kong in 2015 but the players had to dig deep to avoid a loss in Korea.

Despite the early setback, calm heads prevailed as the team delivered on a game plan of putting the ball behind the Korean pack and the whole team, man for man, gave their all on cover defence and in physical ball carries throughout the game.

The Hong Kong players, despite their limited time training together collectively, hunted down Korean players as a group and stopped Korea from getting over the gainline to win important balls in the ruck while also winning the collisions.

At times it was desperate stuff but it was the Koreans who faltered for most of the opening half with a series of ball-handling errors which allowed Hong Kong to amass a 15-0 lead by the halftime break.

Debut fly-half Glyn Hughes opened the scoring in the 11th minute with his penalty giving Hong Kong a 3-0 lead, and the score was extended to 8-0 as the forwards imposed themselves on a potentially dangerous Korean pack and set up a rolling maul leading to hooker Alex Post crossing the try line.

Although Hughes’ conversion went wide, the team was holding on, but a yellow card to Hong Kong’s other left-winger, Matt Worley, saw the team dig deep with 13 players to close out the half and deny Korean scoring opportunities. Worley made amends when he returned to the field before halftime and added a second Hong Kong try which was successfully converted by Hughes, after some great team interplay.

The Koreans started the first 20 minutes of the second half similar to the first half, wasting a few opportunities and battling with the humid conditions, spilling the ball on a few dangerous half-breaks, and their errors were compounded by some excellent scrambling defence from Hong Kong.

Korea eventually got on the board when lock Choi Seong Dook was the beneficiary of a farcical passage of kicking play to put Korea on the board at 15-7.  It was from here on that the energy-sapping conditions started impacting Hong Kong.

Korea put on a period of sustained pressure, adding a penalty and a second but unconverted try from their long-serving captain Kim Kwang Min, in a ten-minute period to set up a nervy final quarter with the scores tied at 15-15.

The substitution on both sides was changing the momentum in a topsy-turvy period that saw a Korean penalty allow them to take the lead for the first time, and they pushed ahead 18-15 with ten minutes left.

Buoyed by a loud crowd of over a thousand fans, Korea was applying pressure but Hong Kong patiently set up phases and earned penalties, before Nathan DeThierry, scored in the corner after a perfectly weighted kick pass from McNeish to help Hong Kong regain the lead, 20-18.

Korea came straight back at Hong Kong and earned a penalty from the restart in the 75th minute, to take the lead 21-20.

Hong Kong then went on their own attack and after forcing another infringement from Korea in defence, in the dying seconds of the match, McNeish was offered a high-pressure chance to claim a win from the penalty tee.

With no time left on the clock, a watchful Hong Kong bench saw the ball sail over the posts and they rushed to the field as Hong Kong claimed an epic and passionate team win, 23-21.

In doing so, Hong Kong defended the Asia Rugby Championship title for the third consecutive time, which allows themselves, and us all, to keep the Rugby World Cup dream to stay alive.