Gutsy Hong Kong fall to physical Tongans
Captain Michael Parfitt hails hosts’ courage despite 39-16 loss in IRB U20s tournament
Hong Kong survived a physically gruelling test from Tonga's tough combatants in the IRB Junior World Rugby Trophy, but the result would have caused plenty of inner heartache on Friday night.
The 39-16 scoreline might indicate it was another big loss, and indeed the five tries the Pacific islanders put past the home team supports that conclusion. Yet Hong Kong can be proud of another gutsy performance against the kind of opposition they rarely come up against at this under-20 age-group level.
"It was a tough game. We talked at training about coming out hard and putting a show on and that didn't happen, but the boys showed great courage although we couldn't sustain it for a full 80 minutes," said Hong Kong captain Michael Parfitt.
Appearing for the first time in this second-tier eight-team tournament - the winners of which will earn a berth in next year's IRB Junior World Championships in Italy - Hong Kong have not looked out of place despite a 37-0 loss to the United States on Monday, followed by yesterday's reversal.
The small group of hometown fans at Hong Kong Football Club would have heaved a sigh of relief that at full-time Parfitt and his boys were still standing and able to give their visitors a traditional "three cheers", for it was full-on, no-holds-barred rugby from the islanders, who pride themselves on big hits.
It was dished out in spades, so much so that it was a surprise that the referee pulled out his yellow card for a Tongan only once (Hong Kong flanker Mike Coverdale was also sin-binned but not for a head-high tackle) and showed great restraint even though the penalty count against Tonga was considerable.
"They were big boys, and we should be proud in our defence. We will learn from this game and come back 10 times stronger against Georgia," promised Parfitt, looking ahead to the final pool game for Hong Kong on Tuesday.
At least Hong Kong can take pride in scoring 16 points on Friday, after having failed to put any on the board against the US.
A charged-down try by centre Theo Rolston just after half-time raised the roof and winger Kevin Field knocked over the conversion and also three penalties.
But every time Hong Kong scored Tonga replied with speed and power. They were in no mood to play second fiddle.
"They hit back immediately every time we scored and it shows what a good side they were. We must learn from this and try to go again and again after scoring," Parfitt said.
"But there was an improvement [from our first game] and these are the positives we will take away from this game.
"It is a work in progress and come Georgia we will be ready to give the home crowd a show."
In Friday's other games, Japan defeated Namibia 34-28, the United States narrowly kept their unbeaten slate clean as they held off a brave challenge from Georgia to emerge 13-12 victors, while a last-gasp try from winger Charles Debove helped second seeds Canada escape with an 18-18 draw with Uruguay.
For the US, South African-born open side flanker Hanco Germishuys scored the only try in a closely-fought encounter and it proved to be enough to give the top seeds a face-saving victory over Georgia, who seemed to run out of steams towards the end.
“It was very close... too close for comfort,” Germishuys said. “But we knew it would be close. We expected Georgia to be the hardest team for us in this tournament.
“They put a lot of pressure on us and as the ball was very slippery that led to a number of handling errors. But after this we are confident we can go all the way,” the 17-year-old added.