Hong Kong kept their 2015 Rugby World Cup dream alive after they demolished South Korea 39-6 with a powerful performance built around a strong defensive effort at Hong Kong Football Club on Saturday.
The five-try romp not only earned Hong Kong their third successive bonus point in the Asian Five Nations competition, but it also saw them regain top spot in the standings although Asian champions Japan, who hammered Sri Lanka 132-10 in Tokyo, have a game in hand.
“Our dream is alive,” said elated skipper Nick Hewson. “We have booked the repêchage spot for Asia, but this is not enough – for certain we will have a crack at Japan in our final game.”
Hong Kong will meet Japan on May 25 in Tokyo with the winner of that match booking Asia’s spot at the Rugby World Cup in Pool B alongside South Africa, Samoa, Scotland and the United States.
The second-placed team in Asia – Hong Kong have assured themselves of that spot if they lose to Japan – will play Uruguay in a one-off match in Montevideo in August with the winner moving into the final stages of the repêchage, where they will face either an African or European team in a home-and-away play-off.
South Korea began strongly when Hong Kong centre Jake Phelps was sin-binned for a high tackle in the first minute. With one man down, Hong Kong took time to settle and conceded two penalties in the first five minutes, which Korean fly-half Oh Youn-hyung knocked over to give the visitors a 6-0 lead.
Sandwiched between Phelps’ two tries were a penalty from fly-half Chris McAdam and a drop goal from full-back Alex McQueen.
Hong Kong, who had entered the game on the back of two easy wins over the Philippines (108-0) and Sri Lanka (41-10), kept the pressure on their opponents with a solid defensive effort.
With the back row of skipper Hewson, Pale Tauti and Matt Lamming also outstanding, Korea could make no headway and it was left to the home team to capitalise on turnovers.
Winger Salom Yiu Kam-shing scored in the right corner completing a good phase of concerted pressure from Hong Kong’s forwards before Rowan Varty on the other wing created a superb try for full-back McQueen as the lead was stretched to 32-6.
Substitute prop Steve Nolan added the icing on the cake late in the game when he went over from a forwards rush to score Hong Kong’s fifth try, allowing McAdam, whose kicking was impeccable, to add the extra points to take his personal tally to 11.
“It is a memorable day in Hong Kong rugby history,” said coach Leigh Jones.
It is the first time that Hong Kong will play in the repêchage at the World Cup; providing they don’t pull off an upset win over Japan.
“Our defence was superb. This game meant a lot to the guys. They showed a lot of commitment and it is nice to go into a meaningful last game,” Jones added