Hong Kong hold on for win over Kenya in Cup of Nations
Leigh Jones’ charges win their final game with a nervy 40-30 victory over the Africans as Russia defend tournament title
Hong Kong held on for a 40-30 win over Kenya to capture second place in the 2017 Cup of Nations tournament on Saturday night at Hong Kong Football Club.
After a scare from the hosts in the opening round [a 16-13 win], Russia cruised past Kenya in round two and dispatched Chile earlier on Saturday, 42-11, to claim their third straight Cup of Nations title.
Hong Kong jumped out to a convincing lead in the finale after tries from winger Conor Hartley and flanker Toby Fenn and a conversion and penalty from fly half Matt Rosslee gave the hosts a 15-0 advantage after just 12 minutes. Kenya’s only reply in the opening stages came from the boot of winger Darwin Mukidza, whose two first-half penalties kept his side within touching distance.
Centre Lex Kaleca scored Hong Kong’s third try as the hosts exploited the Kenyan defenders’ inability to bring their opponents down cleanly, with wave after wave of attacks crossing the gain-line. Rosslee’s conversion extended Hong Kong’s margin to 22-6.
The floodgates were seemingly poised to open for Hong Kong, who spent most of the half deep in enemy territory. All three early tries were simple affairs, coming from second and third phase possession. Scrum-half Jamie Hood and Rosslee showed quick hands and good decision-making to release the attack in waves, while Jack Neville, playing at fullback for the first time in a test, picked opportune moments to enter the line and create overlaps in the defence. Neville had a livewire debut at fullback, showing genuine pace and a good eye for the gap as he regularly sprang long runs that left the Kenyan defence scrambling, but also just outpaced his support.
Hong Kong proved unable to press home their advantage and allowed Kenya to come back into the match late in the half after reserve prop Philip Ikambili scored the visitors’ first try from a line-out deep in Hong Kong territory. Mukidza’s conversion brought Kenya to within eight, trailing 22-13 at half-time.
Kenya’s self-confidence grew along with their score line and they had a better start to the second half, as they again tested Hong Kong’s defence deep. A darting run from scrumhalf Samson Onsomu produced a second try for Kenya in the 50th minute, closing Hong Kong’s once formidable lead to just two points, 22-20, after the conversion from Mukidza.
Stung into a sense of urgency, Hong Kong replied well, with Salom Yiu Kam-shing scoring his second try of the series, to push the lead back to 27-20 after Rosslee’s conversion.
But Hong Kong were again unable to build on or even hold their advantage and five minutes later rangy loose forward Vincent Mose weaved through the defence for a 50-metre try. Mose’s effort nearly leveled the scores for the first time, but the conversion attempt was wide, leaving Kenya adrift, 27-25.
Hartley collected his second try in as many tests shortly thereafter, finishing another dangerous line-break from Yiu, who was tackled just short of the line. Hartley collected the ball at the base of the ruck before extending his towering frame to give Hong Kong breathing room at 34-25 after the conversion.
A minute later, Kenya shocked the home crowd into silence once again as lock Oliver Man’geni capitalized on Hong Kong’s bobbling of the re-star, collecting the loose ball and charging over the last 20 metres for the try, pulling the visitors back into contention at 34-30 with ten minutes left.
Rosslee struck two late penalty chances as Hong Kong held on grimly for the eventual 40-30 win that gave Hong Kong a third straight runners-up finish in the Cup of Nations.
Coach Leigh Jones was pleased with the outcome of the tournament, but chagrined at Saturday’s outing:
“It’s been a great week. All teams are very credible opponents and we need to play this level of opposition more often, but we made hard work of a game we could have won easily, and one we also could have lost easily.
“I imagine it was a great product for the spectators, but we need to be more accurate. When you have sides on the rack as we did, you have to finish them off. We get in our own way at times. We score two easy tries and you can almost see it happen: We start playing too deep, we don’t exit properly, we go off plan and when we do that we aren’t a great side.
“It was good experience. We showed a bit of grit to hold on and we’ll grow and learn from that. We probably kept the most dangerous team for last. If Kenya were going to win in this tournament, it would likely come when you are a bit low on energy as we were today.
“We can’t afford to slip up when it comes to Asia Rugby Championship and the Rugby World Cup repechage next spring so we could do with a couple more games like this prior to those competitions. We’ll beat ourselves up a bit over our mistakes, and that’s the kind of attitude we want. But I think the players will draw confidence from today. Giving these guys more international experience at this level augurs well for the future. If you make mistakes and still pinch a win as we did tonight, it can’t be too bad,” added Jones.