Rugby World Cup: Hong Kong a step closer to Japan 2019 as ‘freak accident’ fails to halt charge in Cook Islands
Hong Kong dominate Cook Islands in Rarotonga and will take 26-3 lead back for home leg of qualifier, despite losing Jamie Tsang to injury before kick-off
It was labelled the city’s most important game in rugby history and Hong Kong did not disappoint, defeating the Cook Islands 26-3 in Rarotongaon Sunday.
Leigh Jones’ men return home with a healthy lead despite the 18-hour time difference and last-minute alterations before the game.
The teams meet in Hong Kong for the second leg on July 7, with the aggregate winner moving into a four-team repechage. The repechage winner secures a spot in the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan, its inaugural Asia event.
“It was an outstanding performance,” Welshman Jones said. “To come out here and put 20-odd points [against] the team they had out there is magnificent. I don’t get overly excited about things but it was a historic day for Hong Kong. It was a tough game and a hell of a win.
“There was a freak accident before the game – Jamie Tsang strained his neck and had to pull out. Young [Alexander Post] had to come in after five or six training sessions and what an outstanding performance he had; it was almost seamless out there,” Jones added.
Tries from Thomas Lamboley, Liam Slatem, Conor Hartley and Max Woodward, along with a solid defensive display against physical opponents quashed any suggestion of pre-match nerves or rustiness.
A low-scoring second half saw big hits and strong winds, making it difficult for the visitors to get out of their own half.
“We have a few battered and bruised but so have they – if we are going to get to where we want then we have to cope with opposition teams like that,” said Jones, adding that he was upset before the game because people were overlooking the 55th-ranked South Pacific islanders.
“We talked about how precious every point is ahead of the game, whether we it’s giving them away or scoring them – the boys wanted to get a clean sheet and they did.
“[Cook Islands] are a very good side – they have some top quality players – but we were really tightly organised and that is credit to everyone involved.”
Hong Kong made the tactical decision to stick with their own body clocks despite crossing several time zones during their 25-hour journey to the Islands.
The team return home on Tuesday and Jones anticipates only one or two training sessions ahead of the crucial second tie.
“We have to factor the journey and the recovery period in,” said Jones. “It will be interesting to see what their travel party will look like – whether some of their big names will travel – but it will be a similar approach to us.
“It’s cup rugby and we don’t want to be too flamboyant. We need to do what it says on the tin and play good percentage rugby. We won’t be satisfied with losing and we want to make sure we finish the job off.”
The aggregate winner moves into the repechage – alongside Canada, the loser of Germany v Samoa and the runner-up of the Africa Cup – just one step away from the World Cup.
Hong Kong squad:
Daniel Barlow, Jamie Tsang, Dylan Rogers, James Cunningham, Jack Delaforce, Nicholas Hewson, Toby Fenn, Thomas Lamboley, Liam Slatem, Matthew Rosslee, Salom Yiu Kam-shing, Max Woodward, Jack Neville, Conor Hartley, Jamie Hood, Alexander Post, Adam Fullgrabe, Jack Parfitt, Michael Parfitt, Kane Boucaut, Cris Pierrepont, Jamie Lauder, Max Denmark, Benjamin Roberts and Lex Kaleca.