Four EACON Captains: (l to r) Tom McColl, captain of defending champions Hong Kong, Andrew Neill captain of Belgium on their debut, Costa Dinha, captain of Zimbabwe on their debut and Jono Bester captain of the host UAE Rugby Federation.
Hong Kong began their title defence of the 2nd Emirates Airline Cup of Nations on a winning note after holding off a robust challenge from Zimbabwe to win the opening encounter 22-7 in Dubai on Saturday.
New fly-half Chris McAdam had his kicking boots on slotting five penalties plus converting the solitary try scored by Stewart Megaw as Hong Kong got off to the perfect start they wanted.
Captain Tom McColl marked his return to test rugby after a 16-month hiatus for pilot training for Cathay Pacific and played for the first time at international level at fullback.
McColl didn't put a foot wrong after the African champions drew first blood early in the game with a try in the corner. But once those initial jitters were out of the way, Hong Kong fielding a new backline, looked composed and took control of the game, especially in the second half to run out comfortable winners.
“We took some time to settle down. We were fielding a number of new boys and in the first half they thought ‘phew this is international rugby’. But once they got used to the intensity, we kicked on in the second half,” said a pleased Hong Kong manager Dai Rees.
Zimbabwe caught Hong Kong off guard in the opening minutes by scoring a try through winger Steven Hunduza who was on hand to complete a bullocking run by flanker Shingai Mpogu. Teenager Linience Tambwera knocked over the conversion but that was all the success he had, missing a further five penalty attempts.
It was the opposite story for McAdam, one of four new faces in the Hong Kong backline. The Kowloon fly-half was on target on six out of seven occasions and his left-foot kept Hong Kong in touch in the first half which ended with Zimbabwe clinging to a fragile 7-6 lead.
Hong Kong took the lead for the first time in the match just after the break through McAdam’s third successful penalty kick and then he stretched the lead to 12-7 with another pinpoint effort.
Winger Salom Yiu Kam-shing, one of only three Sevens players in the squad – with Hong Kong aiming to build its depth as it looks forward to next season's crowded sevens and 15s calendar – looked threatening every time he touched the ball in the first half.
He turned that latent danger into reality when he set off on an angular run, slicing through the Zimbabwe defence before offloading to Megaw metres from the try-line.
That try, midway through the second half all but sealed victory for Hong Kong whose defence looked impenetrable with backrowers Pale Tauti, Matt Lamming and Nick Hewson putting in thunderous tackles while the new midfield duo of Megaw and Craig Wilson also stood firm.
“Our defence was magnificent especially when you think that we had a new midfield in Stewart and Craig. Also Matt Lamming had a great game. He is a find, he is born in Hong Kong and he has returned to play for us. Coach Leigh Jones has worked hard on our shape around the contact areas and it paid off,” Rees said.
Zimbabwe, who like Hong Kong are preparing for their 2015 World Cup qualifying campaign, tried to use their big and burly forwards and speedy backs to bust through but the line held. And with Hong Kong's pack dominating the set-pieces, the mistakes began to flow and McAdam was on hand to punish them with his accurate boot.
“It’s fantastic to come back after 16 months and start the tournament with a win,” said skipper McColl. McColl was quick to find his feet after the long lay-off and superbly controlled the defence from his vantage position to give Hong Kong the perfect start to their campaign to defend their crown.
In the other game, Belgium showed they have a lethal strike force as they ran in 14 tries to hammer hosts United Arab Emirates 94-3. Belgian fullback Alan Williams led the try spree scoring four tries and knocked over 12 conversions to take his personal tally to 44 points.
Hong Kong will face UAE next on Tuesday, December 11 2012 at 7he Sevens ground in Dubai.