Hong Kong qualify for World Rugby Junior Trophy after 5th straight Asia Rugby U19s title
Hosts book their fifth straight appearance in the tournament next spring as the side run riot against Sri Lanka at Hong Kong Football Club
The Hong Kong Men’s Under 19s team beat Sri Lanka 40-7 in the return leg of the home-and-away Asia Rugby U19s championship on Saturday night at Hong Kong Football Club.
The sweep saw Hong Kong claim their fifth straight U19s title and book a fifth straight appearance at the World Rugby Junior Trophy next spring.
After last weekend’s 37-8 win in Colombo, Hong Kong U19s coach Stephen Dowse rang the changes in the starting fifteen for Saturday night’s rematch, blooding seven seventeen year olds ahead of the encounter.
As may be expected, Hong Kong didn’t quite hit their stride in the early going until more of the senior squad members made it on from the reserves bench in the second half.
“In the first half we wanted to get guys opportunities and it was great that we were able to do that. We blooded six or seven 17-year olds out there today and we don’t get the opportunity to do that too often at this level, ” said coach Dowse.
“Every year younger guys are coming in and playing Premiership rugby and that is certainly helping. I think it was a great experience for those guys who came on and a few of the older heads coming off the bench in the second half perhaps just steadied the ship a bit.”
For a second straight game, Hong Kong opened the scoring early with winger Marcus Ramage collecting his fourth try in the series in the fifth minute. Flyhalf Paul Altier’s conversion was true as Hong Kong jumped out to a 7-0 lead.
Co-captain Max Denmark extended the lead mid-way through the half with his first try of the series as Altier’s second conversion pushed Hong Kong’s margin to 14-0.
Sri Lanka, who were much improved on their second outing in two weeks, replied with their only try at the end of the half as fullback Chamod Fernando stood up to the Hong Kong defence with some nice open-field running. Rundi Silva’s conversion was good, leaving Sri Lanka trailing 14-7 at the break.
It was the kind of fightback that Dowse was hoping for to test his charges ahead of the World Trophy.
“Credit to Sri Lanka their intensity really was at another level today. They really went up a gear throughout the game, but for us it shows that it is the details that really count. When we executed our game plan, and it wasn’t complicated – it is about guys knowing where they need to be and working hard off the ball – and when we did that we got our rewards,” Dowse said.
Hong Kong brought on their more experienced age grade campaigners in the second half and were rewarded with 26 unanswered points to close out the win.
Altier who marshalled the squad well for a second straight outing, opened the scoring in the 38th minute, converting his own try to extend Hong Kong’s lead to 21-7. The front row got involved as well, with prop Jay Cooke getting on the board for the first time in the series with a try in the 55th minute, followed by reserve hooker Callum Tam just three minutes later. Altier split the conversions as Hong Kong widened its lead to 33-7.
Hong Kong forced the floodgates fully open in the final 10 minutes with Alex Nisbet collecting his second try in two games with Altier’s conversion bringing the final margin to 40-7. Encouragingly, Hong Kong kept their foot on the gas in defence, holding off a desperate Sri Lankan attack in the final moments despite being man down after Nisbet was yellow carded late in the game.
Now Dowse and the side will look ahead to their fifth appearance at the World Rugby Trophy.
“The hardest part for us if we look at the past three or four World Trophies is making that leap and closing the gap on the other teams at that level.
“We are fortunate to have the full backing of the Union and we will address our build-up to next year’s competition to make sure that we give ourselves and these guys the best opportunity to succeed. This is a really talented group and there are some standout players here.
“There is a core of a good team here and we now need to make sure we look at other players coming through to see who can add value to this group. That competition within the squad is essential for us.
“Asia is at one level and we expect to win that and dominate that, but now we need to challenge ourselves on the world stage,” Dowse added.