Belgium lived up to its top-dog status defeating defending champions Hong Kong 24-12 to win the Emirates Airline Cup of Nations in Dubai on Friday night.
The Belgians ran in two tries, one early in each half, from No. 8 Thomas De Molder and scrumhalf Sebastien Guns, but had to thank the accurate boot of player of the tournament fullback Alan Williams who knocked over four penalties and a conversion to ward off a feisty challenge from Hong Kong, winners of the inaugural event last year.
“They were too big, too heavy and too skillful. The better team won on the day,” said Hong Kong senior coach Leigh Jones. “But I couldn’t have asked for more from our guys. I’m proud for it was a magnificent performance.”
Belgium, ranked 23rd in the International Rugby Board world listings, kept possession with their bigger forwards who used their bulk and weight to good effect as they tried to dominate their opponents who wore black armbands in memory of Kowloon captain David Tait who died earlier in the week.
A rolling maul in the opening minutes led to Belgium’s first try from De Molder but world number 28 Hong Kong refused to cave in the face of the driving play by their opponents pack and tackled their hearts out in a spirited display. Three first-half penalties from left-footed Chris McAdam saw Hong Kong end the first half trailing 10-9 and with their tails up.
But Belgium began the second half the same way they had started the match when a series of driving moves just after resumption of play led to scrumhalf Guns hustling over for a try by the corner flag to extend the lead to 15-9. McAdams reduced the deficit to just three points with his fourth successful penalty but a Williams’ penalty gave Belgium a six-point cushion midway through the second half.
Belgium had the territorial advantage for large parts of the second half and the pressure mounted on Hong Kong’s brave defence led superbly by No. 8 Pale Tauti and the backrow of Nick Hewson and Matt Lamming.
McAdam knocked over his fourth penalty but the pressure finally told on Hong Kong when in quick succession, front-rowers Tom Bolland and Steve Nolan, both key figures, were shown yellow cards sending them to the sin-bin. The man advantage paid a heavy toll on Hong Kong’ hopes of pulling off a sensational victory.
Down to six men at one stage, the Hong Kong forwards who had held their own in the set pieces and loose started to buckle resulting in two more penalties which the metronomic boot of Belgian fullback Williams punished. These mistakes saw Belgium put daylight between them and their opponents for the first time in the match.
“It was a magnificent performance to stay within touching distance for long periods of the game,” Jones said. “But in the end they were too strong for us.”
Despite the loss, team manager and Hong Kong Rugby Football Union head of performance Dai Rees was upbeat with the outcome of the four-nation tournament where Hong Kong beat Zimbabwe (22-7) and the United Arab Emirates (51-6).
“We have unearthed fresh talent in players like (flanker) Matt Lamming, (fly-half) Chris McAdam, (centres) Stewart Megaw and Craig Wilson and the two young scrumhalves Kenneth Hsieh and Charles Cheung,” Rees said.
“This tournament was all about developing players as we look ahead to a crucial few months at both 15s and sevens next year. We brought nine players on this tour and all of them have performed well giving us depth so in that sense this tour has been an outstanding success,” Rees added.