Neil Alton jokingly dismissed his two-minute stint on the field as a loose-head prop against the United States last Sunday as 'it was nothing'. Alton is a second-rower by choice. But he has been asked to move into the engine room by coach George Simpkin because Hong Kong lack depth in this position. When iron-man Rob Grindlay came off the field to get some running repairs to a cut in his head, Alton was thrown into the lion's den - the front-row of an international match. It was his first experience at that level, although he has played in this position for Valley. The difference in playing on the domestic club scene and at the international level was immediately evident as the Hong Kong scrum was rocked back twice. 'I went down for two scrums. I'm sure with more time, I can get better,' laughed Alton the other day, recounting his experience in the front row. It is no laughing matter, however, for Hong Kong. Grindlay's momentary absence in the front-row highlights the problems the territory have in remaining competitive. Simpkin singled out Grindlay, saying: 'He has been the cornerstone of our creditable performances so far.' The 1.9-metre, 110-kilogram Grindlay is the rock on which Hong Kong's success has been built this season. The former North Harbour and New Zealand Maoris trialist is as tough as they come. Remember that engrossing 10-minute struggle early in the first half of the Canada versus Hong Kong game when the Canadians took scrum after scrum near the Hong Kong try-line in a vain attempt to demoralise and sap the strength from the home team? After the game, Canada's tight-head prop Rod Snow was quick to praise Grindlay and the rest of the Hong Kong forwards. 'We tried to wear them down and push them off the field. Full credit to them for not buckling under.' The Hong Kong tight five - front-rowers Grindlay, Alan Clark and Dave Lewis and locks Stuart Krohn and Roger Patterson - have been absolutely outstanding in the Pacific Rim Championship so far. They have laid the foundation for victory which, unfortunately, has been accomplished only twice. The tight five have played unchanged in all four of Hong Kong's matches. This stability has been crucial. While Grindlay is the anchor of the side, hooker Clark and tight-head Lewis (who seems to be maturing nicely with age) have produced steady performances. Clark has an added bonus in that his mobility and loose play is exceptional. Krohn, who was moved into the second row from No. 8, is playing as if to prove everyone that he is indispensable in any position. The big-hearted American has come up trumps once again. Skipper Patterson is as solid as ever. His line-out skills and loose play have inspired the forwards to greater efforts. The good thing about Krohn and Patterson are that they are both essentially back-rowers who love the freedom to roam. Their natural instincts have given Hong Kong more mobility in the forwards, a tough cover defence and more capability to contest the ball in the loose. Unlike the tight five, the Hong Kong back-row have played in varying degrees of competence. While new No. 8 Duane Davis has been impressive, flankers John Dingley and Rick Shuttleworth are hopefully just about reaching their peak. On the whole, the Hong Kong forwards have passed the first test of playing at this level with flying colours. It is due to their performances that the territory's stocks are high.