Hong Kong suffer heartbreaking loss to Russia but ‘results don’t matter’ as coach Leigh Jones focuses on progress
Hosts go down 16-13 as Bears’ fly half Ramil Gaysin slots last-minute penalty on opening night of Cup of Nations
A bitterly disappointed coach Leigh Jones was quick to look at the bigger picture despite Hong Kong’s heartbreaking 16-13 loss to Russia in the Cup of Nations at King’s Park on Friday night.
It was a last-minute penalty that sunk a gallant Hong Kong, but for Jones the progress his side has made since going down to Russia 27-0 a year ago is the most important thing ahead of next year’s World Cup qualifying.
“We’re growing, we can afford to lose tonight, we can afford to lose Tuesday and we can afford to lose the following Saturday,” he said.
“As long as we keep growing, those results don’t matter. It starts to matter when we hit the Asia Rugby Championship next May and June.
“It’s another piece in the jigsaw. We’re showing clear progress again even from Kenya [in August], I’m just utterly disappointed we couldn’t pinch a win or even a draw there at the end.”
After falling behind 13-3 at half-time, the Hong Kong of old may have laid down against the might of a Russian side that has won the past two Cup of Nations tournaments.
But not this time, with fly half Matt Rosslee bringing it back to 13-6 with his second penalty, before replacement Cado Lee Ka-to sent winger Salom Yiu Kam-shing over for a brilliant try.
Rosslee’s extras levelled the scores on 68 minutes and it remained that way until Russia fly half Ramil Gaysin sunk home hopes with his penalty at the death.
“It was an improved performance, we can now get in an arm wrestle with a very well recognised and respected tier-two nation,” Jones said.
“We are becoming more physical, we stood up to the physical onslaught of Russia and bounced back and came at them in the second half.”
It was a tense final five minutes, with Hong Kong pinned in their 22 and defending for their lives. They almost hung on, but after Gaysin missed a drop goal the ball was brought back for an earlier penalty and the number 10 didn’t make the same mistake twice.
Earlier, Gaysin slotted two penalties and a conversion in the first half to go with a try to hooker Stanislav Selskii, who scored from a line-out drive as the Russians built an early platform.
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Hooker Dayne Jans, second rower James Cunningham and 50th gamer Nick Hewson all stood tall for Hong Kong, while first gamers Conor Hartley, Kane Boucaut, Jack Neville and Michael Coverdale all showed enough to suggest they belong at test level.
While Hong Kong’s scrum – led by front rowers Jans, Dan Barlow and Dylan Rogers – stood up against the might of Russia, their line-out failed at a couple of crucial moments and Jones knows there is work to be done.
“Our scrum I thought was outstanding, our line-out needs to continue to improve,” Jones said. “I think if I had to point to an area where we couldn’t secure enough ball, it would have been our line-out.
“If our line-out functions, we can get a foothold in their territory and we can build our game, so our line-out needs to improve.”
Chile defeated Kenya 23-3 in the night’s other match and Hong Kong have only three days to pick themselves up and prepare for the tough Chileans.
“I think it is going to be a tough week for all the teams. We have Chile next up, they are going to be a big, heavy, nuggety old pack,” Jones said.
“We have got to get ourselves dusted off and come back for another big battle, there are no easy games in this competition.”