Belgium prove too strong for Hong Kong
Coach Leigh Jones' charges put up a brave performance, but Europeans prove too big and skillful in Emirates Airline Cup of Nations final
Hong Kong will learn and grow from yesterday's 24-12 defeat to Belgium in the final of the Emirates Airline Cup of Nations said senior coach Leigh Jones who was full of praise for a brave effort which he described as "simply magnificent".
"I'm proud of the guys and you couldn't ask for more. They manned up and fronted up but at the end of the day they were too big, too heavy and too skillful. We were beaten by a better team," conceded Jones after Hong Kong, who were wearing black armbands in memory of David Tait, had relinquished their title to the Europeans.
A superb defensive performance by the Hong Kong forwards kept them in touch for almost three-quarters of the match, but at the end the incessant tackles took a toll with indiscipline creeping in, which led to two yellow cards in quick succession that saw influential front-row forwards Tom Bolland and Steve Nolan ordered to the sin-bin.
That cost Hong Kong as the pack, down to six men at one stage, couldn't continue their superb resistance and infringements were punished by Belgian fullback Alan Williams who knocked over a couple of penalties to take the game out of Hong Kong's reach.
"It was a tough night at the office," said Hong Kong No.8 Pale Tauti, who was outstanding as he put in some big hits and led a lion-hearted performance by the forwards where everyone played their hearts out.
"We just couldn't match the power of their forwards. Our set piece was reasonable but we couldn't match them coming around the corner. We have to get in the gym and become as powerful as these guys," said Jones after watching the forwards try to stop wave after wave of attacks.
Belgium made early strikes at the start of each half, scoring two tries both from driving play by the forwards, which in the end proved decisive as Chris McAdam almost matched Williams in the kicking department knocking over four penalties which kept Hong Kong in touch.
Hong Kong went into the break trailing 10-9 but with the momentum behind their backs and the belief that they could pull off a momentous victory.
The boot of McAdam had kept them in range of their more-fancied opponents with the fly-half knocking over three penalties to somewhat negate the early try by Belgian No.8 Thomas de Molder.
McAdam could have given Hong Kong the lead if not for two missed penalties but with every passing minute they grew in confidence. The forwards, who had absorbed some punishing early minutes, started stringing together a few passes and suddenly holes opened up in the Belgian defence.
Bolland and Matt Lamming began to express themselves in the open and soon this self-belief spread. One such multi-phase move involving both backs and forwards led to Hong Kong's third penalty as the desperate Belgians began to falter.
"The whole point of coming to competitions like this is to pit yourself against better opposition," Jones added.