Nick Hewson and his brave band of brothers will have to rethink their summer plans after Hong Kong kept their 2015 World Cup qualifying dreams alive and booked their spot in the first stage of a repêchage away to Uruguay in August with a superb 39-6 victory over South Korea.
The second-placed team in the Asian Five Nations will travel to Montevideo for a one-off game after a fine five-try win over the Koreans earned Hong Kong that right. But for the moment, elated skipper Hewson has urged his teammates to “dare to dream” and defeat Japan in the final game on May 25 in Tokyo.
The A5N champions will go directly to the World Cup.
“We can dream. We still have one game left and we want to have a crack at Japan,” Hewson said. “This was a special effort and I’m very proud of the guys who have conceded just one try in three matches.”
Defence was the ket to Saturday’s performance, with fly-half Chris McAdam’s tackling leading the way. McAdam also kicked well to put the Koreans on the back foot – his place kicking earned him 11 points.
The solid presence of Hong Kong Football Club centres Lloyd Jones and Jake Phelps presented a forbidding wall which the Koreans failed to scale, with Jones also a thorn on attack with several good breaks. Hong Kong’s back-rowers Pale Tauti, Hewson and Matt Lamming worked tirelessly on cover defence and at the break down as the hosts turned over possession a number of times.
Delighted coach Leigh Jones described the win as a “memorable day in Hong Kong rugby history” and said it was due to the “huge heart and huge commitment” from the players. If they lose to Japan, it will be the first time Hong Kong will play in a World Cup repêchage.
Winger Rowan Varty epitomised the spirit Jones described when he sprinted back 40 metres to pull off a try-saving tackle early in the game – a tackle that would have given Korea momentum after they led 6-0 in the first five minutes with Phelps in the sin bin for a marginally late tackle.
Hong Kong recovered from that early blow in style with Lloyd Jones infusing belief in the team when he wrestled the ball from a Korean forward. That lifted the morale of the team who weathered the early onslaught and restricted Korea to two penalties.
“We knew if we could be in the game after 30 minutes Korea would take their foot off the gas and we could grow our game and that turned out to be the case,” said coach Jones.
“The lads finished stronger than Korea and that was reflected on the scoreboard. But this win is not just about the 15, it was a squad effort and a whole community effort.”
Phelps made up for his sin-bin misdemeanour when he returned to score two tries, the first fortunate with the Japanese referee failing to spot his knock-on. Phelps did well to recover and score from 25 metres out to give Hong Kong the lead. They never looked back with McAdam converting a penalty, followed by full-back Alex McQueen slotting a drop goal to make it 13-6.
Phelps completed his brace on half-time when he picked up a poor pass, wrong-footing the entire Korean defence to give Hong Kong a handy 20-6 lead.
Hong Kong didn’t let up in the second half, with Salom Yiu Kam-shing touching down from close range. McQueen then finished off some nice work from Varty, who collected a high ball on the halfway mark and rounded his opposite number before drawing the last man and sending the full-back on his way. Sub Steve Nolan added the coup de grace with a push-over try.
“It is nice to go into the last game [against Japan] as a meaningful game. It is a big ask, but we will go [to Tokyo] confident and on a bit of a high,” Jones declared.