Hong Kong hold their own until final quarter as powerful Chiefs romp home to secure 38-6 victory
Hosts limit early scoring opportunities for Waikato development squad but concede three late tries in 10-minute period
Although the Hong Kong rugby squad fell to a 38-6 defeat at the hands of a University of Waikato Chiefs development squad on Saturday, they held their own for long periods against the visitors at Hong Kong Football Club.
Hong Kong trailed 7-6 at the break and were 10-6 entering the final quarter, when the visitors found another gear – exploding with four tries in the final 20 minutes to romp home with the 38-6 win.
Hong Kong started strongly, edging into the Chiefs development squad territory from the opening kick-off when good chase pressure forced the visitors into conceding an early penalty that was slotted by Ben Rimene, who played nearly the full match at fly-half, to take a 3-0 lead after three minutes.
The Chiefs development squad replied moments later with their only try of the first half.
Captain Codey Rei slotted the conversion, his first of six successful kicks at goal (five conversions and a penalty), giving the visitors a lead (7-3) that they wouldn’t relinquish for the rest of the game.
Hong Kong coach Leigh Jones was satisfied with his players’ performance.
“When you take into consideration the quality of the opposition it was a very good 60 minutes from us. But in the final 20 the Chiefs did what they do well and ran us around a little,” Jones said.
“I was pleased with the first 40 minutes, but we picked up a few injuries and made a lot of changes at half-time, so it was a bit disjointed in the second half. You can’t afford to be disjointed against a team of their quality.”
Jones found a lot of positives from playing against top-shelf opposition.
“There were some things today that we can build on, but as you saw in the last 20, there are still some things to work on as well. Overall, I don’t think we are in a bad position with two weeks to go before our first match in the Asian championships,” Jones said.
Today’s encounter also gave Jones an opportunity to examine some of the new crop of players capped in last November’s Cup of Nations – when Jones was coaching with Japan — and to test two of three potential debutants in his Asian championship squad in prop Ben Higgins and lock Henjo van Niekerk.
The third, winger Ryan Meacheam, was rested today after playing in the Cathay Pacific/HSBC Hong Kong Sevens earlier this month.
Higgins played nearly the entire game, coming off in the 75th minute with a slight hand injury while van Niekerk played the entire second half.
“I was generally pleased with the new boys. Ben did well, as did Toby [Fenn] when he came on and it was nice to see Henjo having a run around as well. What today will do for them is invaluable; it gives them an insight into this level of rugby. There are some tired bodies in the change rooms at the moment, so they will know what this level is all about now,” Jones said.
University of Waikato Chiefs development coach Dave Dillon noted the improvements in the Hong Kong set-up after last year’s debut visit.
“After last year, we knew it was going to be a tough match. The first half was pretty scrappy and Hong Kong put a lot of pressure on us. I think we were trying too much, looking for miracle offloads and when you do that you don’t put any pressure on.
“In the second half, we just wanted to build pressure and get that 2-3 second ruck ball going with the first couple of phases.
“Once you do that you are away. We achieved that and that obviously reflected in the second half and the score at the end. But it wasn’t easy.
“Hong Kong with the way they are building their programme now and getting their athletes in a full-time environment, it was certainly a step up for us from last year,” said Dillon.
The rest of the opening half was evenly contested with Hong Kong’s Rimene slotting his second penalty in the 24th minute to bring the hosts to within one point of the Chiefs (7-6) at the break.
Both coaches took advantage of the free rotation policy with Hong Kong making eight changes at half time.
Despite the raft of changes, Hong Kong managed to retain their shape in the third quarter, but fell off the pace in the final quarter at one point conceding three tries in 10 minutes to the visitors.
Hong Kong’s second half momentum was largely generated against the run of play with hard-tackling centre Lex Kaleca and Toby Fenn helping to keep the visitors on edge in the early stages after resumption of play.
While not unseating the visitors, the solid play of the centre and back row pairings in both halves against the Chiefs Development squad could prove a bright spark for Hong Kong in the Asian championships later this month.