Hong Kong’s U20s sevens squads swept all comers to top their pools on the opening day of the 2018 Asia Rugby U20 Sevens tournament at Kings Park.
Men’s defending champions Hong Kong picked up where they left off in 2017 with 19-5 and 33-0 wins over South Korea and Thailand to lead Pool A with six points, with Korea and Thailand tied second on four points and Malaysia at the bottom of the pool on two points.
Coach Fan Shun-kei was content with his side’s performance, saying, “I’m quite pleased, given that a few players were on debut and have only trained with us for a short while.”
Top scorer for Hong Kong after the opening day was Kellet School and Discovery Bay Pirates’ player Liam Doherty, who scored a brace of tries against Thailand, and put Hong Kong on the board in a tough first half against South Korea.
A physical Korean side and some heavy rains conspired to keep the hosts to a 7-0 lead at the break in what was a gruelling battle given the conditions. Although the Koreans managed to get on the board, Hong Kong outworked them across the final half to add tries through captain Mark Coebergh and Matthew Wyatt.
“That will be a confidence booster for us,” said Fan after the match.
“They were bigger than us, but we showed that we can defend against a big side and are able to overcome any physical disadvantage.”
Fan will be looking for his charges to shed any remaining nerves from their debut before tomorrow’s final pool match against Malaysia (11.06am). The Malaysians finished bottom of Pool A after losses to Korea (19-22) and Thailand (5-21).
“We need to improve our play in the last two minutes of both halves tomorrow. We’re new but we can’t let our nervousness affect our performance,” counselled Fan.
Sri Lanka are level with surprise packages Singapore at the top of Pool B after day one, with China and Chinese Taipei chasing the leaders.
“Sri Lanka is the main threat, but Singapore looks strong too, because they have some bigger overseas players, so their physicality has improved a lot this year,” Fan added.
In the women’s competition, Hong Kong beat Singapore, 29-7, in its opener before walloping last year’s runners-up Thailand 20-0.
Jessica Eden notched two tries to lead Hong Kong’s five-try win over Singapore, with Hebe Talas, Beatrice Bourron and Shirley Lam adding tries.
Eden and Bourron were back on the scoreboard with tries against Thailand, (finishing as the day’s top scorers with three and two tries respectively), as were Chloe Chan and Maelle Picut as Hong Kong extended a 5-0 lead into a 20-0 win in the second half.
Coach Sam Feausi was delighted with her side’s showing, particularly in their improvement game-by-game.
“We had a slow start against Singapore, but we worked our way out of that to win. Then we came out and won a very tough game against Thailand, who have been a challenge for us at this level.
“The girls played with a lot of heart and to get that win is, for us, a huge achievement and one that I think will add to the sense of self-belief that is building in the squad now,” Feausi added.
The round-robin women’s competition sees Hong Kong play series champions China first up tomorrow (11:28am) and then Malaysia (14.28) to determine the four teams that advance to the 3rd/4th place play-off and Cup final (16:58).
“China have speed and size, so we know that we have to counter that. We have trained and prepared this team for exactly that type of game, so I’m interested to see how we go.
“If we show that same belief and confidence that we did against Thailand, we can go very far in this competition, but it’s up to the girls now,” added Feausi.
Hong Kong’s Men’s U20s are hunting for a fifth straight title, while the women finished third last year.