Hong Kong winger Rowan Varty turns the Kazakhstan defence inside-out
Hong Kong blitzed Kazakhstan 55-0 to claim third place in the 2012 HSBC Asian Five Nations (HSBC A5N) Top Five competition on Saturday. In the weekend’s opening match in Seoul, Korea cemented its return to Top 5 rugby by sealing second place in the final standings despite being run close by UAE 47-21.
It was Hong Kong’s first international in 13 years at the newly renovated Mong Kok Stadium in the heartland of Kowloon and the home team celebrated with a seven-try rout of Kazakhstan who will be relegated to Division One next season after finishing their campaign winless.
“It was a great occasion and a great turnout from our rugby fans and local community,” said Hong Kong RFU Head of Performance Dai Rees. “And it was good to see the team respond with a sound performance under very trying conditions.”
Heavy rain hours before the encounter made conditions underfoot heavy. The high humidity also sapped the energy of both teams, but Hong Kong handled it better as they ran in seven tries, including a penalty try, to register their third win of the tournament.
Losses to unbeaten Japan and a last minute loss to South Korea earlier in the campaign put paid to Hong Kong’s hopes of repeating as the second ranked team in Asia for a second consecutive HSBC A5N season.
“We always knew once we lost to Korea (21-19) that it would be hard to retain our second spot,” said Hong Kong senior coach Leigh Jones. “But our ultimate aim is to remain in the Top Five, especially when the 2015 Rugby World Cup qualifiers come around and we have done enough to stay in contention again next year.”
Hong Kong flyhalf Mike Glancy had a fantastic day with the boot, knocking over two penalties and seven conversions to collect 20 points. Centre Ally Maclay grabbed a brace of tries, either side of halftime, with the others scored by Lee Jones, Charles French, Nick Hewson and Rowan Varty.
Hong Kong led 27-0 at the break with Kazakhstan playing the last 16 minutes of the first half with 14 men – two players being banished to the sin-bin for infractions, second-rower Anton Makarenko and flyhalf Daulet Akymbekov. This didn’t help the cause of the visitors who struggled in the debilitating humidity.
Burly centre Maclay opened the scoring for Hong Kong in the third minute bursting through three ineffectual tackles to score under the posts and give flyhalf Mike Glancy an easy conversion. A superb break from outstanding centre Lee Jones resulted in Hong Kong’s second try 10 minutes later. Jones wheeled and whirled for 25 metres before passing inside to lock-forward French who planted the easiest of tries. Jones himself got on the scoresheet shortly thereafter, capitalizing on a mazy run by winger Rowan Varty as Hong Kong racked up 21 points in the first quarter.
Glancy, who knocked over all three conversions, was also on target with two penalties to give Hong Kong a comfortable 27-0 at halftime. His touch didn’t desert him in the second half as he kept his unblemished record intact.
Blooding a raft of new players this season, Kazakhstan hardly posed any dangers and conceded a dozen penalties, mostly at the breakdown as they struggled to make an impact. A third yellow card shown to lock Yevgeniy Shekurov midway through the second half summed up a frustrating day for the visitors who along with Japan and Hong Kong had held the record of playing in every Top Five competition since the tournament’s inception in 2008.
Hong Kong and Japan are now the only teams to have maintained a steady Top 5 presence in each year of the competition. The Philippines, winners of the HSBC A5N Division I competition, will replace Kazakhstan, becoming the eighth Top 5 team since 2008.
Tries from blindside flanker Hewson and Maclay soon after the break allowed Hong Kong to extend their lead to 41-0. But they lost substitute prop Alex Ng Wai-shing to the sin-bin resulting in a drop of momentum.
“It was tough out there,” said Hong Kong captain Pale Tauti. “The weather and the opponents both combined to make it hard but I’m proud with the way the guys stuck it out.”
Kazakhstan’s tactics of repeatedly delaying the ball at the breakdown earned Hong Kong a penalty try and it was left for winger Varty to wrap up the win for the home team when he latched on to a clever punt from Glancy to the corner to run in untouched under the posts.
In Seoul, a brave UAE team turned in their most complete performance of this year’s HSBC Asian 5 Nations, running South Korea close for 60 minutes before fading in the last quarter. Korea eventually proved too much for the visitors, winning 47-21, for their third victory of the tournament, (their only loss coming to undefeated Japan). The result sees them return to their customary second placed ranking in Asia.
Credit to the UAE for throwing everything at their opponents as they dominated the early stages. UAE vice captain and Sevens captain Tim Fletcher scored the match’s opening try, which was converted by flyhalf Murray Strang to give UAE a 7-nil lead. Fletcher, who was moved from fullback into the centres by UAE coach Duncan Hall this week to add more bite to the offence, added a second try in the second half.
The Koreans replied immediately through flanker Lee Kwang Moon, with the conversion from Oh Youn Hyun leveling the score at 7-all. Towering lock forward You Young Nam then edged the hosts out in front for the first time with a well-worked try, which was again converted by Oh to put Korea ahead 14-7. But UAE replied again, this time through fleet-footed fullback Imad Reyal whose jinking try pulled UAE level after Strang’s conversion at 14-all going at halftime.
Korea started the second half in a frenzy as they looked to inject more pace into the play. They capitalized on a UAE error from a deep re-start with a rolling maul finished off by hooker Shin Young Jun who piled over from short range. Oh’s third conversion of the day was successful putting Korea ahead 21-14. Fletcher’s second try came quick on the heels of Shin’s tally. Strang’s conversion was good and the scores were level again at 21 with 30 minutes remaining.
The UAE pack began to show signs of cracking under Korea’s sustained attacks. Lee Kwang Moon sold a great dummy to put winger Cho In Soo in the clear for Korea’s fourth try of the match and secured the bonus point. Oh’s conversion was successful and Korea held a 26-21 lead. The Koreans never looked back, scoring shortly thereafter through scrumhalf Yang Youn Han to pull ahead at 33-21 after Oh continued his perfect day with the boot.
Two more Korean tries from captain Youn Kwon Woo and reserve winger Jegal Bin, his the result of a length of the pitch dash, put Korea in the clear at 47-21. The result left a nervous UAE waiting for the results from Hong Kong as a bonus point win would have been enough to leave Kazakhstan ahead of the UAE and send the desert warriors packing to Division I next season.
But Hong Kong’s emphatic win saw them take third place on the table with 13 points, behind Korea on 17 points and Japan on a perfect 24 points from four wins and four bonus points. UAE complete this year’s HSBC Asian 5 Nations Top 5 with six points, while Kazakhstan end winless with one bonus point to show from their campaign.
While this year’s Top 5 has come to a close, there is still plenty of rugby left in the HSBC Asian 5 Nations 2012. Next week sees the hosting of the Division II and Division III tournaments at Stadium Kelana Jaya in Kuala Lumpur. Division II and III are also doubling as the second stage of Asia’s qualification process for Rugby World Cup 2015 in England. The winners of the two competitions will meet in a single-match play-off later this year to see who replaces Singapore in next year’s Division I competition. Singapore was relegated as the bottom placed finisher in the HSBC A5N Division I 2012 tournament held in April in Manila.