HK score a double whammy
Rugby's expedition into the heartland of Kowloon ended in a double-edged victory for the game. On the field they hammered Kazakhstan into submission with a 55-0 victory and, off it, the fans turned up in sizeable numbers to mark a successful homecoming to Mong Kok Stadium.
But as an advertisement for the game, it was hardly a ringing endorsement and one which would have won few new converts, especially from the local Chinese community. That's because the game was untidy and scrappy, and littered with foul play. Hong Kong had wanted a glitzy commercial for fast attacking rugby, instead it was trench warfare.
Two things contributed to this sorry spectacle. Nature played its hand hours before the match with a heavy deluge that made conditions underfoot heavy. But the more crucial factor was that the visitors hadn't turned up to play rugby. They were more intent on playing the man than the ball. It left the Japanese referee with his hands full.
Three yellow cards were dished out for Kazakhstan, encapsulating their irritable and heavy-handed approach. Rugby is physical, but it is crazy when almost every prolonged contact situation looked as if it could burst into a bout of heavyweight proportions. Playing with 14 men for almost 25 minutes of the match left Kazakhstan on the back foot. They were clueless and devoid of ideas when the ball was in hand and only looked dangerous when their big forwards rumbled forward. No surprise then that they finish the season winless and relegated to the second tier.
'It was a tough game. The conditions evened things up a little bit and we couldn't play an expansive game as we wanted to,' said Hong Kong captain Pale Tauti. 'They never lay down and they kept hitting our boys and we were giving as much as they were. But we backed ourselves, and we had pride in our line and it was a nil score to them so everything turned out well.'
The Hong Kong Rugby Football Union had placed a great deal of emphasis on the importance of moving the final game in the HSBC Asian Five Nations Top Five competition to the 6.600-capacity Mong Kok Stadium. Close to 4,000 fans turned up to watch Hong Kong score seven tries, including a penalty try.
Flyhalf Mike Glancy was in imperious touch with the boot, knocking over every opportunity which came his way - two penalties and seven conversions to collect 20 points. Ally Maclay led the try-spree with a brace, his opening effort coming in the third minute when he shrugged off three tackles to score by the posts. Charles French and Lee Jones added two more tries before halftime as Hong Kong led 27-0.
Tries from Nick Hewson, Maclay and Rowan Varty, plus the penalty try given for Kazakhstan deliberately killing the ball allowed Hong Kong to finish on a high.
'It was a special win coming as it did at a place where rugby was last played 13 years ago. It was a hard game,' said Hong Kong scrumhalf Cado Lee.
The result means Hong Kong finished in third place. Minutes before the game began, news filtered through from Seoul that South Korea had defeated the United Arab Emirates 47-21 to finish second behind Japan.
'We made no bones at the outset that second was always our target but [after] we lost to Korea [21-19] we knew it would be difficult. But things are evolving and teams are becoming more physical. Our challenge is to try and combat that physicality,' said senior coach Leigh Jones.