Territory left floundering
By ALVIN SALLAY
LIGHTNING struck twice - and blew the home team's hopes of qualifying for the Cup competition right out of the Hong Kong Stadium yesterday.
The territory, who were relegated to the Bowl competition last year, find themselves in similar circumstances today, despite defeating France who were the top seeds in the preliminary round.
Pool C was the toughest group - a group of death. And Hong Kong, having overcome the first hurdle in the morning, beating France 19-14, choked later in the day as they tumbled to a 10-19 loss to Tonga. And with Tonga beating France 21-19, the die was cast for the hosts.
Deja vu for Hong Kong. Last year they beat Scotland in the first game and then lost to Argentina. The territory then had to play a waiting game, and watched Scotland beat Argentina and qualify for the Cup on a try count. Hong Kong were pipped into the Plate by the South Americans.
For Scotland and Argentina, write Tonga and France respectively. Call it by whatever cliche you want to - 'lightning striking twice', 'history repeating itself' - the numbing message is that Hong Kong will once again swim among the minnows today.
'It sucks to be playing in the Bowl again. We don't want to be playing for the Bowl,' was the anguished cry from Hong Kong's most experienced sevens player, Stuart Krohn. Well, he and the rest of the Hong Kong team who were seen in action yesterday - skipper Rodney McIntosh, Isi Tu'ivai, Vaughan Going, Ashley Billington, Stephen Kidd and Will Wild - have only themselves to blame for this predicament.
Tonga, five-time winners of the Plate competition, were always going to be the harder opponents. And they proved that, despite having less possession than Hong Kong.
The territory were always going to struggle as they lacked a second speed merchant. And with their fastest man on the field - Billington - being off-colour in attack, Hong Kong's hopes of defeating Tonga looked slim.
This lack of speed was shown up on more than one occasion in the game against Tonga. With Going and Tu'ivai doing the loops, Hong Kong created the overlap plenty of times. But the speed to finish off this manouevre was lacking except late in the game when Billington finished off this rehearsed piece by diving over near the right corner flag.
It was a try which came too late. After being tied at a try each at the break, Tonga had assured themselves of victory by scoring two tries early in the second half, both the outcome of sheer speed and quick counter-attacks.
A game which should have been won was lost. Although McIntosh distributed the ball well from his scrum-half position, Krohn was winning loads of possession, and the rest were putting their hearts if not their minds into the games, Hong Kong's fate once again was in the hands of strangers.
Hong Kong had to watch anxiously as Tonga played France in the final Pool C game late in the afternoon. A French victory by two tries or less would have assured the hosts a place in the Cup. But those dreams were quickly laid to rest by Tonga.