Normal service restored by still-smarting Wales

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 26 March, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 26 March, 2011, 12:00am

Once they were slayers of world champions. But last night giant-killers Hong Kong tasted the revenge of the fallen and it was hard to stomach as they tumbled to a 35-12 defeat at the hands of Wales in their opening pool game.

The defeat put to rest a grudge which had been an irritant for Wales the past year.

A year ago, Hong Kong savoured one of their finest moments in the tournament's 36-year history when they shocked Wales 21-19. But this time the proud Welsh dragon was breathing fire.

'Of course that defeat rankled for everybody involved in that game and it was at the back of our minds. It was something we wanted to put right,' said Welsh coach Paul John, happy his side had proved a point against the upstarts.

A brace of tries from Jevon Groves, and one each from Adam Thomas, Kristian Phillips and Alex Cuthbert powered Wales to a decisive victory. Hong Kong struck back through two lovely tries from Rowan Varty, but at no time did they ever look like pulling off another shock.

'I'm really pleased with that result.' John said. 'As far as the tournament goes, it was a difficult start coming up against the hosts and remembering what happened last year. The boys were on the top of their game, although it's the first game in the tournament and we have a lot to do.'

Wales rushed to a 21-0 lead, thanks to a somewhat nervous beginning from Hong Kong who conceded possession with some butter-fingered handling. Perhaps the pressure of knowing they had a reputation to keep - as giantkillers - was too much.

'Our guys struggled with the intensity,' said Hong Kong head coach Dai Rees. 'They dropped four balls - four tries. We took our chances last year but had a bit of an off day out there individually tonight. But we showed in attack what we are capable of.'

Rees, a Welshman himself, professed he was 'glad' the game was out of the way and the team could now focus on retaining the Shield title, awarded for the first time last year in a revised format.

'Sunday is our bread and butter and we will be looking for a Shield win again,' Rees said.

'Our target has always been to try to claim a big scalp and this year we are looking at Spain. Wales are a good side, and it was all media hype that we had a chance against them, having beaten them last year.'

Varty once again showed what an excellent finisher he is. Twice, either side of half-time, he made Wales pay for their defensive lapses to bring cheers to the large first-day crowd urging Hong Kong on.

'I'm proud and pleased with our performance tonight,' Rees said. 'If we had managed to get the ball to Salom [Yiu Kam-shing] and Rowan more often, we might have made it more difficult for Wales. But a few individual mistakes cost us.'

Hong Kong's two remaining pool games are against South Africa and Spain. South Africa, winners of the previous leg of the IRB Sevens World series in Las Vegas, are in a different class.

Spain are the big scalp skipper Ant Haynes and his men want.

'We will have to keep our shape and use our experience if we are to beat them,' Rees said.

'I hope that, by the time they meet us, they will be a bit tired. They are a developing nation like us, and we will have a chance against them.'

Although Wales are the reigning world champions in sevens, the side are totally different from the one who played in Dubai in 2009. And John was quick to remind that even the side who lost last year was a shadow of the World Cup squad.

That won't matter. For the record books will always say that Hong Kong defeated the world champions. But last night the giants struck back, and did it emphatically.