Varty, Maclay punch holes in UAE
It was a flashy opening presentation, but Hong Kong will want more than just flamboyance from their deadly backline if they are to strip Japan of their crown and claim Asian supremacy for the first time.
Hong Kong returned last night from Dubai with an emphatic 85-10 victory over the United Arab Emirates in the opening match of the HSBC Asian Five Nations Top Five competition, a result that sends a clear message to Japan, the region's perennial champions.
It was all splendid stuff from a dangerous backline, led by four-try super winger Rowan Varty and hat-trick hero Ally Maclay, who punched holes at will in a poorly organised defence to register the biggest win for Hong Kong in the history of this competition.
The blistering 14-try rampage was cause for celebration. But it papered over the cracks - where for significant periods Hong Kong looked patchy, unable to string together lengthy phases and failing to dominate a pesky UAE pack in the set pieces and at the breakdown.
With Japan under new coach Eddie Jones in a rebuilding phase after last year's World Cup and fielding an A5N squad with only one overseas-born player, Hong Kong believe this could be the best opportunity to challenge the champions. But despite the scoreline, senior coach Leigh Jones was not exactly over the moon as he felt the cardinal rule of rugby - to play as a unit - was not quite achieved.
'I'm not pleased, but neither am I disappointed,' said Jones. 'It was mostly an individual effort, the team effort was not apparent. We need to see improvements everywhere.'
Jones, who has taken a more leading role this season with national coach Dai Rees taking on a managerial position, said: 'The scoreline flattered us. We have plenty to work on'.
Hong Kong looked dangerous from broken play with a backline studded with sevens players exposing the inexperienced UAE midfield. A dozen of the 14 tries were claimed by the backs with Varty and Maclay accounting for seven. Alex McQueen, who replaced fullback Ross Armour for the second half as Jones used his bench to maximum effect, grabbed a brace while Salom Yiu Kam-shing, Lee Jones and Keith Robertson also scored one each.
The only tries scored by the forwards came late in the match from backrowers Rory Hussey, another second-half substitute, and Nick Hewson.
'We have a gifted set of backs and we have known for a long time what they can do,' Jones said. 'It was great to see Rowan score four tries and Ally get a hat-trick. This is the type of rugby we want to play.'
Hong Kong were allowed to do it as the UAE backs kicked away possession leading to superb counterattacking. And whenever the ball was spun wide, Varty and company looked threatening. But as Jones pinpointed, apart from the showy backline performance, Hong Kong will need to step up their intensity in other areas, especially with South Korea coming up next Saturday at home.
'This victory will have given us confidence. There is no denying that it was an emphatic win, but we need to improve,' Jones said.
From the very first minute when inside centre Lee Jones charged down a clearance kick, managed to hang on to the ball and pop a pass to Robertson who found Varty on his shoulder, the writing was on the wall. By half-time Hong Kong had added another five tries, including a hat-trick from 110kg centre Maclay, to lead 39-10.
The home team's only answer was a try from close range by skipper Alistair Thompson, which was goaled by flyhalf Andrew Russell, who also knocked over a penalty.
This was another department Hong Kong will need to improve on, with goalkickers Robertson and McQueen missing three and four conversions respectively. Those misses did not matter against the UAE, but every point will count when they come up against South Korea, Japan and Kazakhstan.
Japan, meanwhile, defeated Kazakhstan 87-0 in Almaty yesterday.
The highest score in a rugby match, which Hong Kong recorded in 1994 against Singapore in Kuala Lumpur