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Rugby: Hong Kong, Russia set up Cup of Nations finale

Hong Kong winger Tom McQueen against Portugal. Photo: HKRU.

Hong Kong winger Tom McQueen against Portugal. Photo: HKRU.

November 17, 2015: Hong Kong and Russia kept their clean sheets intact through the second round of the inaugural Hong Kong Rugby Union Cup of Nations tonight at Hong Kong Football Club.

 

Hong Kong survived a gripping battle with Portugal, winning 13-6 after a late try from reserve winger James Robinson broke the 6-6 deadlock, while Russia turned in another comprehensive display with a 50-5 win over Zimbabwe in the opening match.

 

Hong Kong will play Russia in the deciding match of the Cup of Nations at 5.00pm on Saturday at Hong Kong Football Club, preceded by the third-place playoff between Portugal and Zimbabwe at 3.00pm.

 

Portugal took the early lead against Hong Kong with a penalty in the sixth minute from fullback Duarte Marques. It was a rare opportunity for Portugal who finished the opening half on the wrong side of a 12-2 penalty count.

 

Hong Kong took advantage of Japanese referee Shuhei Kubo’s treatment of the visitors, with flyhalf Ben Rimene notching his first penalty in the 20th minute to level the scores at 3-3. Rimene collected his second penalty in the 30th minute after centre Jose Lima was sin-binned as punishment for his side’s repeated infringements at the breakdown, giving Hong Kong a 6-3 lead at halftime.

 

Hong Kong looked the more dangerous side in the early going, effectively neutralizing Portugal’s biggest threat, its scrum, early on as Portugal coach Olivier Baragnon opted to keep his heavier units on the bench to start the match. Tactically, Hong Kong played the smarter rugby in the early going with superior kicking from hand seeing them retain possession for significant periods of time.

 

Hong Kong coach Andy Hall said: “Portugal’s approach surprised us a bit, actually. We thought they would be slightly more pragmatic, but actually we were both playing very similar games in the first half. At halftime, we said that whoever falls off that style first would lose and I was really pleased with the way we held out in the second half, particularly late, to come away with the win.”

 

For a second consecutive outing, Hong Kong couldn’t quite apply the killer blow to make its advantage tell on the scoreboard. The visitors nearly made them pay for their inability to put points on the board as they brought on their massive front-row reserves to start the second half.

 

“We knew their first half pack wasn’t their strongest and that they would bring on the cavalry sooner or later. Our focus was on the set piece and it was nice to see the players handle that,” Hall said.

 

“We said that a mini victory for us would be in how early Portugal brought their big guns on. So it was a bit of a tick for us at the start of the second half when they put their reserves on. After that we knew every scrum would be massive and full credit to the tight five in particular for handling that pressure well.”

 

But it took some time for Hong Kong to adjust to the physical test as massive prop Mike Tadjer in particular made real ground early in the second half, scything through the Hong Kong defence with ball in hand.  Portuguese pressure soon led to an early penalty with Duarte slotting over to level the scores at 6-6 in the 42nd minute.

 

Hong Kong flanker Toby Fenn was sin-binned for a dangerous tackle in the 50th minute, increasing the pressure on the hometown fifteen as they staved off several Portugal attacks.  The Hong Kong defence rose to the occasion, keeping Portugal scoreless despite having a man to the good.

 

In an encouraging sign of Hong Kong’s growing depth, the reserves bench made an instant impact on the game. In the 63rd minute reserve winger Jamie Robinson capped off multiple phase attacks by Hong Kong to score the only try of the match. Robinson collected a nice offload from reserve prop Jamie Tsang, quickly cutting back inside the defence to score. Reserve flyhalf Niall Rowark’s conversion was good, extending Hong Kong’s lead to 13-6 with fifteen minutes remaining.

 

Portugal almost replied immediately with a nice individual effort from winger Pedro Bettencourt bringing play deep into Hong Kong territory but fullback Ed Rolston came up with the try-saving tackle to keep Hong Kong’s lead intact.

 

Hong Kong then weathered a series of Portuguese attacking scrums on its own five-metres in the 78th minute.  A limping Moses Bailey, who had suffered a knock shortly after coming on to the park, miraculously came away with the loose ball from the Portugal scrum, booting the ball downfield to neutralize Portugal’s last attack and seal a gutsy 13-6 win.

 

Source: HKRU (www.hkrugby.com); Editing by SportAsia

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