HK stay unbeaten, but real test still to come
Hong Kong remained unbeaten in the HSBC Asian Five Nations, winning their second game on the trot, 23-17 over Kazakhstan yesterday. Only one other team in the competition have a clean sheet - Japan.
But there does not seem to be any comparison between the two sides. While Hong Kong had to work hard for victory, the Japanese are coasting along. Yesterday, the Asian powerhouses swamped the Arabian Gulf 114-6 in Osaka. Japan scored 18 tries as they decimated the Gulf.
However, the margin of that victory didn't seem to faze Hong Kong head coach John Walters, who was a happy man after his side kept their unbeaten record at home under his tutelage - now more than a year.
'I don't care what they [Japan] do. We want to concentrate on our own game,' said Walters, who was pleased at the marked improvement of his team from last weekend when they beat the Gulf 20-12.
A large crowd at Football Club watched Hong Kong emerge victorious by three tries to two.
Pete Spizzirri, Simon Hempel and Jonny Elliott dotted down for the home team with Justin Temara knocking over one conversion and two penalties.
Kazakhstan's points were scored by fullback Maxim Lifontov, who collected 12 points, including a try, with the other try going to substitute Ivan Ossikovskiy late in the match.
'This is a big improvement from last week [against the Gulf]. We used the ball better and created more opportunities. We kept the pressure on until we got the points,' Walters said.
A scrappy first half ended with Hong Kong leading 13-3. Temara knocked over two early penalties before loosehead prop Spizzirri popped out of a maul and drove over from close range. Temara converted for Hong Kong to take a comfortable lead.
That was whittled down soon after the break when Kazakhstan's powerful pack drove Lifontov over the line. He converted the try to close the gap on Hong Kong to 13-10.
But centre Hempel, who had an outstanding game, pushed Hong Kong out of the danger zone when he collected a clever chip-kick from Temara to score the home team's second try. Scrumhalf Elliott extended the lead to 23-10 with a sniping blindside run to score by the corner flag.
Kazakhstan refused to surrender. A quick counterattack led to their second try with Ossikovskiy completing a sweeping move. Elliott almost grabbed his second when he seemed to touch down after the ball had been hacked over the tryline, but after initially awarding the try, the referee disallowed it having consulted the touch judge. That robbed Hong Kong of a bonus point. 'I didn't even know a bonus point was up for grabs,' said Hong Kong captain Nigel Clarke. 'What mattered most was to win.'
In Osaka, Japan ran riot as they outclassed the Gulf in a one-sided encounter to remain unbeaten at the top of the standings with a maximum 12 points. Hong Kong are second with 10.