Brilliant Hong Kong maul hapless UAE
Style and substance were plentiful as Hong Kong clinched the runner-up spot for the first time at the HSBC Asian Five Nations Top Five tournament yesterday, laying claim to being the best 'amateur' side in the region.
Coach Dai Rees had always insisted 'performing' was what mattered and that results would follow like night chases day.
Tom McColl and his team proved that mantra in abundance as they went on a 10-try romp past the United Arab Emirates to a 62-3 victory in their final game this season.
Japan, Asia's perennial World Cup representatives, might once again have clinched the champion's tag, but they are a full-time professional outfit whose players live and breathe rugby. In this respect, Hong Kong's part-timers can stand proud after two away wins to Kazakhstan and Sri Lanka capped by yesterday's encore in front of an appreciative crowd at a rainswept Hong Kong Football Club.
'It was an excellent performance,' Rees said. 'Finishing second is good but what mattered more was that we didn't sneak over the line and didn't have to depend on others to achieve our best-ever finish.'
The foundation was laid by a commanding display from the forwards.
From the first minutes, the Hong Kong forwards laid down a marker when they shunted the UAE scrum back on its heels. It set the tone for a domineering performance.
Once again No8 Pale Tauti had a huge game, winning good ball at the restarts and shining with his cover defence. But he was matched in the loose by tigerish openside flanker Mark Goosen, while locks Ollie Jones and Renaud Chavanis ruled the lineouts easily.
In the backs, winger Alex McQueen caught the eye with sizzling runs, as did fullback Ross Armour. Meanwhile, scrumhalf Peter McKee was a constant thorn with his sniping runs. Flyhalf Keith Robertson made up for a poor day with the boot by marshalling his rampaging backline with skill.
'When it started to rain before the game, I didn't think we would score so many tries, but this is a fantastic result,' said skipper and outside centre McColl, a solid presence in midfield.
'This is the first time we have finished second in this competition and I hope this is the start of a new era for Hong Kong rugby.'
A fortnight ago it was the Hong Kong backs who grabbed the bulk of the tries in the 48-3 win over Sri Lanka. Not so yesterday as the forwards scored six of the 10 tries, including all five in the first half.
The best came from tighthead prop Nigel Hobler, who showed all the skill of a politician sidestepping a leading question as he nimbly beat a defender to the tryline to score Hong Kong's fourth try.
Flanker Nick Hewson and Armour led the charge to the tryline, each grabbing a brace, with hooker Alex Harris, Hobler, Tauti, Goosen, McQueen and substitute Jamie Hood also touching down. McColl knocked over five conversions while Robertson was successful with only one from the first four attempts.
The onslaught left UAE bewildered and the feeling was aptly summed up by 'surprised' coach Bruce Birtwistle.
'I thought it would be much closer than this,' Birtwistle said. 'It was an impressive display from Hong Kong. Our goal was to stay in the top five for next year, but we came hoping to finish second. It feels like a job half done.'
Not so, as far as Hong Kong are concerned. Last year they finished third.
Now that they have moved up one place, Rees wants more.
'It's all about sustainability. Finishing second in Asia probably does not mean anything now. But if we can sustain this performance over the next few years, then it will amount to a great deal,' Rees said.
Indeed. Come the 2015 World Cup, and if Japan automatically qualify - by virtue of finishing in the top 12 in this year's World Cup - then the second-best side in Asia might go places.