New caps shine for dominant Hong Kong in Cup of Nations opener
Bonus-point win over Zimbabwe puts hosts top of the table after first test matches at HKFC
Hong Kong set the early pace after the first round of matches in the Hong Kong Cup of Nations with a 30-11 bonus-point victory over Zimbabwe on Friday.
The home side were the only team to collect a bonus point at Hong Kong Football Club after Russia had beaten Portugal 23-12 in the opening match.
Hong Kong jumped to a 20-0 lead after fly-half Ben Rimene opened with a penalty followed by three first-half tries from scrum-half Tom Marshall, winger Charles Higson-Smith and a penalty try.
With the bonus point win in sight, however, Hong Kong seemed to lose focus, conceding two yellow cards on either side of the break. The first against new cap and flanker James Cunningham in the 38th minute and the second to Hong Kong's other flank Matt Lamming in the 48th minute.
With their numerical advantage, Zimbabwe came out strong after the interval with 11 unanswered points.
Fly-half Tichifara Makwanya slotted over two penalties before reserve back Sanele Sibanda crossed over to touch down.Hong Kong's replacement fly-half Niall Rowark helped steady the ship for the home side, notching a late penalty in the 74th minute to push the hosts out to 23-11 before new cap Brad Raper scored the crucial fourth try in the 78th minute to earn the bonus point.
"The win was great, but we lost control in the last 10 minutes of the first half and for the majority of the second," said Hong Kong coach Andrew Hall.
"When the game went loose Zimbabwe really looked dangerous, but when we kept our structure like in the first 30 minutes, we created a lot of chances, which was a positive.
"Credit to the players, their constant plugging away in the second half made a difference in the end. There was belief in what we were doing on the pitch, but we all know that there's plenty to work on yet."
Coach Hall was pleased with the new caps."I'm really pleased for them. I said in the huddle after the match that a bonus-point win on their international debut is a great start. Everyone did themselves justice and we're really pleased with exposing another group of players to international rugby," concluded Hall.
Hong Kong are top with five points followed by Russia on four points with Portugal and Zimbabwe yet to record a point. Hong Kong will take on Portugal in round two on Tuesday while Russia will play Zimbabwe.
It was a nervy start in the European derby as Russia and Portugal struggled in the squally rain.
Portugal had the more composed start pushing ahead to a 6-0 lead after two successful strikes from fly-half Manuel Costa.
In the 34th minute, Russian fly-half Sergey Yanyushkin kicked two penalties to level the score before half-time.
Portugal were clearly superior in the set piece in the first half and looked to be in good position going into the break, but it was the Russians who made the necessary adjustments at the start of the second period.Portugal came out and notched up a 12-6 lead from two Costa penalties, but Russia fought back, steadily chipping away their rivals' advantage at the scrum and line-out. They gained increasing confidence and territory with their centre rush attacks.
Russia captain Vasily Artemyev, playing at fullback, turned the tide scoring the first try in the 60th minute. Yanyushkin's conversion gave Russia their first lead at 13-12.
The back-line produced Russia's second try moments later when centre Igor Galinovsky crossed over. Yanyushkin's conversion brought the score to 20-12 and he added a final penalty in the 77th minute to put Russia in the clear 23-12.
"We're delighted with the result," said Artemyev. "The conditions were tough and not something that we are used to playing in, it was wet and humid. Difficult to breathe and difficult to control the ball, especially in the first half.
"I think we pressed too much early on and we had too many errors in the first 30 minutes. We were playing too much in midfield instead of trying to pen Portugal in their zone. But we were able to settle in after half-time and I think we took control in the last third of the game.
"The most positive thing was that we didn't concede any tries against their strong pack."