Gulf warn Hong Kong to be wary of Kazakhstan
Alvin Sallay in Al Ain, UAE
Hong Kong had better watch out for Kazakhstan who will be a tough nut to crack, warned Steve Holohan, forwards coach of the Arabian Gulf, after watching his pack hold their own against Nigel Clarke's eight.
'I think Hong Kong will struggle on this performance. The last time we played Kazakhstan they put 50 points on us,' said Holohan after Hong Kong had beaten the Arabian Gulf in the opening encounter in the HSBC Asian Five Nations 20-12.
Hong Kong returned home last night fully satisfied at having secured the five points for a win. As they scored only two tries - wingers Simon Smith and Ricky Cheuk Ming-yin dotting down - they fell well short of the four tries needed to grab the extra bonus point.
But it mattered little, for what was most important was the victory against opponents who are the weakest in the group. It will only get harder for Hong Kong from now on as they confront Kazakhstan on Saturday at the Hong Kong Football Club, followed by games against Japan (May 17) and South Korea (May 24).
'We came here to get the win. That was our main goal. We will have to improve on a few areas, but we are happy that the first game is under our belt,' said Hong Kong captain Clarke.
Openside flanker Clarke was an unhappy man after he was pulled off 15 minutes into the second half soon after Hong Kong had taken a 20-12 lead. Head coach John Walters said it was a precautionary move.
Walters was already looking ahead to the Kazakhstan encounter. With captain and number eight Semi Iafeta still on the injured list, he did not want to run the risk of losing his stand-in skipper Clarke who, as usual, was in the thick of the action.
'I knew Nigel wasn't happy, but we needed to look after him,' said Walters.
'We took him off as a precautionary measure. He got a bump on his head earlier in the week and we decided to play it safe.'
Walters was vindicated in his brave decision to move loosehead prop Simon Leung to No 8 and switch Jonny Elliott from midfield to scrum-half as both players rose to the occasion with inspired performances.
'Our defence, ball retention and continuity were very good. But we have a lot to work on,' Walters said. 'But I'm very happy with the way Simon (Leung) played at No 8 and how Jon (Elliott) slotted in with Temara in the halves combination.'
However, Walters and assistant coach Brian Higgins would have been less than pleased with the set-piece play, especially the lineouts where Hong Kong struggled to hold their own.
In the end, the two opportunistic tries saved the day for Hong Kong. The turning point came when Elliott made the decisive break which resulted in a try for Smith with Arabian Gulf winger Francois Coetzer spending time in the sin bin. Then Cheuk's chip and chase in the second half, completing some good lead-up work by Leung and Rowan Varty, sealed the win.
'For a bunch of guys who train irregularly, we did well,' said Gulf captain Diarmuid O'Malley, pleased that his team had given Hong Kong a few anxious moments.