Hong Kong cry out for a game-breaker as Cup of Nations again ends with heavy loss to Russia
Gallant in defeat on the back of strong performances by Alex McQueen and Salom Yiu Kam-shing, a slow start snuffs out any hope for the hosts
A week that started with a positivity that grew into genuine optimism for Hong Kong ended with a 27-0 loss to Russia in the Cup of Nations decider at Hong Kong Football Club on Saturday.
Hong Kong coach Leigh Jones was far from dismayed by the result and is confident there has been “significant improvement” in his side despite the lopsided scoreline, but admitted Hong Kong still lack the game-breakers they long for.
“It’s well documented that we lack those type of momentum players to give us go forward, that was abundantly clear this evening,” Jones said.
“We played some good stuff, but we are desperate to get that go forward in our game. Those guys who can give us some real momentum, a real target to play off.
“Who knows, a few new arrivals in town might help that problem.”
Watch: Hong Kong v Russia highlights
Jones suggested before the tournament that Jason Jeyam could be that man – labelling him “as good a scrum half as I have worked with” – and the 22-year-old showed signs of brilliance after coming on late.
Young second rower Finlay Field is another with huge potential and he too put in a big shift, but for now Hong Kong have to live with the fact that they are not as close to beating a tier two nation as they may have hoped.
In fairness, the final score was not a true indication of the game, with the majority of Russia’s damage done in the first 11 minutes and the last 10.
But that in itself is part of the problem for Hong Kong, with poor patches proving costly time and time again in high-pressure matches.
“I didn’t think Russia were 27 points better, but if you’re going to give them a 12-point start, then that’s how it ends up,” Jones said.
“We are trying to develop a brand of rugby that suits Hong Kong, that’s evident. What we have to do now is be more clinical, we have to play that brand of rugby for longer periods.
“At times the Russian boys were out on their feet, but we still couldn’t ram that advantage home and turn that pressure into points.
“So whilst it’s a 27-0 thumping at home, I’m not too despondent because I am seeing signs that we are heading in the right direction.”
A Russia side who didn’t look at their best during wins over Zimbabwe and Papua New Guinea found another gear against the hosts, opening the scoring after just minutes through No 8 Pavel Butenko.
Soon after, flanker Tagir Gadzhiev scored an inspiring charge-down try to really set the tone for the visitors and when star fly half Yurii Kushnarev added the extras it was 12-0 after only 11 minutes.
While Hong Kong made costly line-out errors at times and failed to generate anywhere near enough genuine scoring opportunities, they refused to lie down and for long periods matched their bigger opponents physically.
Centre Lex Kaleca led the way in that area, while fullback Alex McQueen and winger Salom Yiu Kam-shing were shining lights for the hosts.
It was for a period in the second half that Hong Kong looked most likely to score, but two late tries to Russia winger Vasily Artemyev put the game to bed.
“It’s that balance between giving opportunities to some youngsters and winning the game,” Jones said about the two late tries.
“I didn’t think we were going to win the game, so I took the second option of trying to blood a few youngsters and that’s what happens.”
Earlier, Zimbabwe landed their first win of the tournament, cruising past Papua New Guinea 38-11.