Defending champions Hong Kong swept to a comfortable 51-6 victory over hosts the United Arab Emirates on Tuesday to set up a title-decider against Belgium in the Emirates Airline Cup of Nations.
Hong Kong ran in eight tries, including a brace from outside-centre Stewart Megaw, to stay on course to defend their title against top-ranked Belgium who is also unbeaten in the four-nation tournament.
Hong Kong’s aim beforehand was to hone its attacking game, but although piling on more than 50 points, skipper Tom McColl was not completely happy and has called for his players to be more composed with ball in hand after at least half a dozen scoring chances were thrown away, mainly due to poor handling and turnovers at the breakdown.
“It is good to get a win but we didn’t execute everything we wanted to do,” said McColl. “We made quite a few mistakes and our concentration dipped at times. We have to stay focused and composed.”
Hong Kong led 32-6 at the break but expectations of an open invitation to a try-fest met unexpected and spirited resistance from the home team who restricted the visitors to just three more tries after the interval.
“We knew they would be up for it and it was quite a physical game. Four years ago we lost to the Arabian Gulf (in the HSBC Asian Five Nations) and we knew it wouldn’t be an easy encounter. But we have achieved what we wanted to do which was to meet Belgium on the final day with the title at stake,” McColl said.
Scrumhalf Kenneth Hsieh, who had an exemplary game, started the try-glut when he ran 25 metres from a breakdown to plant a try by the posts. Tries to Megaw, winger Sebastien Alfonsi, prop Ian Ridgway who was making a cameo with the frontline front-row forwards being rested, and openside flanker Nick Hewson sealed the result in the first half.
But hopes that it would turn into a one-way traffic to the UAE goal-line were dashed in the second-half as Hong Kong turned over possession at critical moments and could only manage to squeeze out three more touchdowns – from Megaw, completing his brace, Alex Baddeley and Salom Yiu Kam-shing.
Mike Glancy, taking over the kicking duties from Chris McAdam, knocked over four conversions and a penalty. But he also missed four conversions.
Despite resting key personnel, including front-rowers Steve Nolan and Tom Bolland, Hong Kong dominated the set pieces with hooker Alex Harris and locks Charles French and Dan Watson dominating.
Hewson was outstanding in the loose and was instrumental in setting up Alfonsi’s try when he punched a hole in the UAE defence after stealing lineout ball from the opposition.
Having created a try, Hewson himself was the beneficiary just before the break after winger Salom Yiu Kam-shing joining the line from the blindside created space before off-loading.
UAE had conceded 14 tries against Belgium but a markedly improved display coupled with Hong Kong’s over-eagerness to score resulting in errors made try-scoring a difficult feat in the second half.
“If someone had asked if I would be happy with a 50-something scoreline before the game, I would have taken it. It is better than losing by 90 points,” said UAE coach Duncan Hall.
Belgium also remained undefeated with a scrappy 28-11 victory over Zimbabwe. The game officiated by Hong Kong referee Toby Lothian was marked by five yellow cards – three to Zimbabwe who at one stage were reduced to 12 men on the field – and a red card for Belgium prop Alain Miriallakis who will now miss the crucial clash against Hong Kong.