Hong Kong open Five Nations with victory in Almaty
Hong Kong began their HSBC Asian Five Nations Top Five competition on a winning note by defeating 13-man Kazakhstan 23-10 in Almaty yesterday.
Tries from new captain Tom McColl and Peter McKee helped Hong Kong pull off a stunning victory over the hosts, who finished runners-up to Japan last year.
The scale of the achievement was underlined by the fact that it was only the second time in four years in this competition that Hong Kong have won away. Last year they defeated South Korea in Seoul.
'Any win is great, but to defeat Kazakhstan on their home ground is just fantastic,' head coach Dai Rees said. 'It was an all-round team performance. They never expected us to be so disciplined.'
That wasn't the case with the hosts, who trailed 20-3 at half-time. Frustrations crept in as they saw the game slipping away, resulting in tempers being frayed and red cards shown to two forwards for indiscretions - a head butt and a punch - midway through the second half.
Yet, despite being down in numbers, Kazakhstan were stung into action and came back strongly, scoring the only try of the second period. But it was too little too late as a superb Hong Kong defence, led by loose forwards Nick Hewson and Mark Goosen, No. 8 Pale Tauti and the midfield combination of McColl and Lee Jones held firm.
'We lost our shape towards the latter part of the game, and, funnily, when they were down to 13 men,' Rees said. 'They played the last quarter with reduced numbers and took the game to us. It was a bit disappointing that we tapered off a bit. But we can only learn from that.'
Flyhalf Keith Robertson, who marshaled the backs superbly, knocked over an early penalty sandwiched between two misses to draw first blood. McColl celebrated his captaincy with the first try of the season for Hong Kong before McKee crossed over as the visitors put their stamp firmly on the game.
Robertson ended with a personal tally of 13, from two conversions and three penalties, and was in the vanguard of a spirited Hong Kong defence which kept the Kazakhs at bay.
'We put them under a lot of pressure, especially our midfield where Lee Jones and Tom McColl were outstanding,' Rees said. 'All the hard work done by the coaching staff paid off. Senior coach Leigh Jones has demanded a lot from the players and they have responded. But there is no room for complacency. We have a lot of work ahead with Japan coming up [on Saturday] followed by a tough trip away to Sri Lanka.'
In Colombo, newly promoted Sri Lanka were left ruing a disallowed try after a 13-13 draw against the United Arab Emirates, in a game played in heavy rain.
Substitute winger Lasitha Costa thought he had scored the match-winning try minutes from the end when he swandived on the waterlogged pitch, but the touch judged ruled he had knocked on. Television replays later showed Costa had scored a legitimate try and the ball had bounced out of his grasp after he had grounded it.
Sri Lanka coach Ellis Meachen said: 'We created enough opportunities to win and it is really disappointing to come away with a draw. We got ourselves into some good positions on the field, all in all we played enough rugby to win the game.'