Rugby: Russia beat Hong Kong to claim Cup of Nations
- Updated: November 21, 2015
November 21, 2015: Russia beat Hong Kong 31-12 in the final of the inaugural Hong Kong Rugby Union Cup of Nations on Saturday night, after Portugal beat Zimbabwe 36-11 to claim third place.
It was Russia’s second consecutive tour victory in Hong Kong after they swept the hosts in last year’s two-match Ustinov Cup series.
Russia captain Vasily Artemyev said: “It was definitely tougher than last year. Hong Kong is much improved, but we have improved as well. We were probably a bit more clinical today but it was very evenly matched. We knew coming in that Hong Kong would be our toughest opponent and that was definitely the case.”
Despite Hong Kong getting on the board first through a penalty from flyhalf Ben Rimene in the third minute, Russia had the superior start in the final, dominating the exchanges in the forwards from the outset.
Russia were rewarded for their hot start when centre Igor Galinovsky crossed over to finish off a sustained period of pressure from the visitors. Flyhalf Sergey Yanyushkin’s conversion was wide, giving Russia a 5-3 lead from the opening exchanges.
From then on, Russia kept Hong Kong on the back foot, pressurising the home fifteen into conceding two more early penalties, both taken by Yanyushkin, extending Russia’s lead to 11-3 after the first quarter.
In an attempt to stem the bleeding up front, Hong Kong made two quick substitutions with hooker Alex Harris and lock Paul Dwyer giving way to Jamie Tsang and Adrian Griffiths respectively.
The changes helped steady the ship midway through the opening half and Hong Kong were awarded for a positive period of play with a second penalty, again converted by Rimene, leaving them trailing 11-6 after 27 minutes.
With Russia dominating in both the possession and territorial stakes, Hong Kong had to dig deep in defence. A valiant effort helped slow the visitors down, especially at the ruck, as Hong Kong kept the Russians off the scoreboard for the rest of the half. Rimene’s third penalty in the 38th minute clawed Hong Kong back to within two points at 11-9 at half-time.
Russia adroitly changed tactics in the second half, looking to play rugby in Hong Kong’s half with some solid tactical kicking that kept the hosts penned in for most of the final 40 minutes. The tactic worked, as Russia pressurised Hong Kong’s wings with high balls, forcing the defence into conceding a penalty in the 44th minute, which was slotted over by Yanushkin.
Keeping their foot on the accelerator, Russia followed up with a rapid-fire try from Artemyev four minutes later, again coming from a solid chase of the deep ball. Yanushkin’s first conversion of the match gave the Russians a commanding 21-9 lead.
Hong Kong could only manage a penalty in reply as Rimene converted his fourth attempt to close the gap to 21-12 but the hosts never threatened to wrest the match off Russia.
The Russians finished well with Yanushkin adding a drop goal in the 70th minute, followed by a try from reserve back Anton Sychev four minutes later. Yanushkin’s second conversion gave him 14 points from his outing and brought Russia’s final margin of victory to 31-12.
Artemyev said: “It was two really evenly matched teams out there, but we started really well. We strung together eight or 10 phases from the outset which led to our first try.
“In the second half, we did well to put the ball behind their wingers. Once we got a bit of a lead, we knew Hong Kong would have to chase the game and that the pressure would be on them, which led to a few mistakes.”
Hong Kong coach Andy Hall said: “Our set piece didn’t function early on and our lineout and scrum were a bit wobbly. As a result we couldn’t get on the front foot. If you can’t get the set piece right against a team like Russia, things are going to be difficult, so we made a few tactical substitutions early on in an attempt to be a bit more proactive. If something wasn’t working, we wanted to try and fix it immediately.
“Defensively, we were heroic, but without that parity up front we couldn’t close the gap. It’s a bit disappointing, but this has been a great competition for us. We need to be playing at this intensity more and more often, and when we do, we will win more of these than we lose.”
Source: HKRU (www.hkrugby.com); Editing by SportAsia