Tom McColl guides Hong Kong to win in Emirates Cup of Nations opener
Newly qualified pilot Tom McColl earns high praise after his long-awaited return to action
Newly qualified as a pilot, Tom McColl wants to fly a Boeing 777. Cathay Pacific hasn't yet told him what plane he will fly, though, so for the moment all McColl is in charge of is the Hong Kong 15s team - and he showed that despite a long absence, he was more than capable of taking over the controls in their opening win on Saturday.
Despite 16 months out of the game training to get his wings, and playing out of position at fullback for the first time on the international stage, McColl superbly orchestrated Hong Kong's defence which withstood everything a physical Zimbabwean outfit threw at them before fighting back to seal a 22-7 victory to begin their defence of the Emirates Cup of Nations in Dubai.
"It was a good start. It was tough out there with the heat and it was a good effort by the boys, especially in the second half when we started to put some phases together," McColl said.
"We knew they were going to be big, strong, solid players, but we didn't quite know what to expect. They came out strongly, and we also had a number of new caps starting and I think the excitement of it all led to a few fumbled balls and we let them slip through [for an early try]. But our defence held on pretty well after that."
McColl has played club rugby at fullback, for Kowloon. But at the international level, his preferred spot is inside centre, a position taken over by debutant Stewart Megaw, Hong Kong's solitary try-scorer with the other points coming from the boot of another new face, flyhalf Chris McAdam, who knocked over five penalties and a conversion.
But with Hong Kong searching for more depth in the back three, in preparation for next season's HSBC Asian Five Nations, which will clash with the London Sevens, seven new backs are being tried out at this competition. And manager Dai Rees was pleased with what he saw first-up, especially with the defensive effort which, after an early lapse, looked solid.
"Our defence was good when you think we had a brand new midfield in Chris McAdam and Craig Wilson and Stewart Megaw. Our defence was magnificent and Matt Lamming in the backrow was a huge find," Rees said.
"We showed plenty of maturity when we were 7-0 down to come back the way we did. This was probably one of our best 15s games in three or four internationals."
He also paid tribute to McColl, who captained the team in the Asian Five Nations two seasons ago before temporarily hanging up his boots.
"Tom has not played at fullback internationally but since we are in the hunt for fullbacks and wings, we moved him there. Tom is a quality centre and he showed tonight he could adapt," Rees said.
"Although Tom has been out for 16 months, he was controlling the game from fullback. He has worked hard on his positional game, and we know he has a good kicking game. He has given us another option now. And on top of it all, he is a good captain as well and reads the game well."
Lest his captain get a big head, Rees, on overhearing McColl's wish to fly a Boeing 777, joked that he would be better off flying a crop-duster. Either way, it looks like he will help HK take off in this tournament.