Hopes of home glory now hang on Shield

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 27 March, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 27 March, 2011, 12:00am

Hong Kong will pray they won't have to walk along the boulevard of broken dreams today after they finished bottom of their pool with defeats to South Africa and Spain following on the heels of their opening-night loss to Wales.

The Green Day anthem to losers - played by the deejay who kept the capacity crowd bopping all day - will be a sad song for Ant Haynes and his team if Hong Kong fail in their quest to successfully defend the Shield title, a goal which had been the target set by head coach Dai Rees.

The hopes of claiming a big scalp, like Wales last year, were crushed as Hong Kong failed to skittle Spain in the last of their preliminary round games, going down 24-7 in a game Rees said was decided on a harsh call by the referee, which not only saw him sinbin Jamie Hood but also award a penalty try.

Although disappointed with that result, Rees is grappling with the bigger worry of a lack of intensity shown by the players. The absence of the inspirational Mark Wright, who captained Hong Kong to a silver medal at the Asian Games in Guangzhou last November, also seems to be having an effect, according to Rees.

'I'm really disappointed. It was 7-7 at half-time and it was there for the taking, but we just got it wrong. Key players are just not performing. Why? I'm not quite sure, they shouldn't be overawed,' Rees said.

The dismissal of Hood, for what seemed to be an attempt to hold on to the ball in the ruck, was the turning point for Rees in a game he and Hong Kong had targeted as the big-scalp game.

'It probably was a rush of blood [for Hood], but I've not seen many penalty tries given for that and I think it was a harsh call. But it turned the game,' Rees said.

'It was a double penalty, He sent someone off and then gave a penalty try. Now what is it? He double-penalised us, and those big decisions swing games.'

Just on half-time, Simon Leung Ho-yam scored Hong Kong's equalising try after Spain crossed over midway through the first half. With Spain down to six men early, Leung capitalised on the extra numbers and made full use of a Keith Robertson break to put the home side on level terms and with everything to play for in the second half. Spain went ahead again and then Hong Kong were hit by the killer blow - the Hood sin-bin - and it deflated them.

'We knew we were in the shield but this might have made it difficult for us first-up [today]. But defending the Shield was our goal at the beginning of the tournament and it is still achievable,' Rees said.

Hong Kong, who lost the other pool game to South Africa, 45-0, will come up against China in the Shield quarter-finals. A huge turnaround is needed with Rees admitting the absence of injured skipper Wright was being felt badly.

'No doubt we miss Mark's robustness and leadership on the field. He is a talisman and the others look to him for inspiration. When the chips are down you look to people like Mark.

'Last year we won against Wales, and a win would have given us an easier fixture, but we will dust ourselves down and come back.

'We haven't become a poor team overnight. I don't know if silver [at the Asian Games last November] was the pinnacle of the season, and they came here to enjoy it.

'But there didn't seem to be an intensity among the players today. I hope it will all change,' Rees said.