A 77th minute try from fly-half Ben Rimene saw Hong Kong secure a tense 34-27 victory against Korea in Incheon.
Hong Kong got off to a fast start after full-back Alex McQueen finished an early breakaway from winger Ryan Meacheam to race away beneath the posts for the first score of the match in the fifth minute. Rimene’s conversion of McQueen’s try was successful, setting him on the path for a perfect day with the boot with three conversions and two penalties, and giving Hong Kong an early 7-0 lead.
As expected, Korea replied ferociously, turning the ball over off the restart, a problem area for Hong Kong, to push deep into Hong Kong’s territory. Full-back Lee Jae-Bok soon found space in the Hong Kong’s defensive line to pull the hosts within two points at 7-5.
Two Rimene penalties stretched Hong Kong’s lead out to 13-5, before Korea scored with two minutes of the half remaining through centre Kim Sung-Soo. Winger Lee’s second conversion attempt was true making it a one-point game at half-time.
Korea kicked the first points of the second half after the struggling Hong Kong scrum was penalised on their own put-in. Lee bisected the uprights to put his side ahead by 15-13.
COSTLY YELLOW CARD
Shortly after, Korea lost centre Kim Jeon-Hyeok to the sin-bin after taking McQueen in the air, and the yellow card would prove disastrous for the hosts as Hong Kong took full advantage of their numerical superiority to score two tries in quick succession.
The first came through McQueen, who collected his brace after good work in the build-up from Meacheam and flanker Toby Fenn. Rimene added the extras to re-take the advantage at 20-15.
With extra space on the pitch, the visitors continued to inject tempo into their attack with some strong support play as the forwards and backs linked well to keep Korea penned in their own half, and on 55 minutes Jamie Hood scored from close range to make the score 27-15.
Back at full strength, Korea hit back with a second try for full-back Lee, which Soop-Yeong converted to close the gap to five points with 12 minutes remaining.
With the crowd cheering them on Korea advanced upfield and after several phases of pressure hooker Na Kwan-Young crashed over for the Korean’s fourth try of the afternoon.
Lee Soop-Yeong’s conversion to retake the lead was wide but the scores were level at 27-all setting up a climactic final 10 minutes. With the momentum having swung in their favour, Korea continued to look dangerous but a lack of composure with ball in hand and some questionable decision-making helped Hong Kong shut down their comeback.
On a late foray in the Korean half, Rimene spotted the space behind Korea’s charging defence, and executed a beautiful chip-and-chase try in the 77th minute. Rimene’s conversion gave Hong Kong the 34-27 win.
Hong Kong’s second away victory in Korea in as many seasons came with the added bonus of 1.26 rankings points, enough to lift them above Belgium and Germany and into 23rd position in the World Rugby Rankings. Korea fall below Ukraine, Kenya and Chile to 28th place.
"SWEET AND SOUR"
Coach Leigh Jones described the victory as “sweet and sour,” adding that “while there were a lot of good things out there today, our scrum was very ordinary which made us work a little bit harder than we should have for that win. But the boys did well to hook in and dig out the win and tactically we were quite smart today. We played to our game plan quite well, but our set piece continues to let us down, especially the scrum and our re-starts. We need consistency at the set-piece.”
Both sides earned their first points of the competition with Hong Kong climbing into second place on five points, (behind Japan with 10), after the win and a bonus point for scoring four or more tries. Bottom-of-the-table Korea collected two bonus points for scoring four tries and a loss within seven.
Hong Kong will now enter their bye week before travelling away to Japan and closing out the Asia Rugby Championship campaign at Hong Kong Football Club against Korea on 4 June.
MALAYSIA WIN DIVISION ONE
In the Asia Rugby Championship Division 1, Malaysia were crowned champions after backing up Wednesday’s 42-17 win over Sri Lanka with a 40-20 victory against Singapore, who are relegated to Division 2 after finishing bottom of the four-team competition.
Those two wins combined catapulted Malaysia up eight places in the rankings to 52nd, on 45.55 points. Singapore drop one place to 60th.
The game was still finely balanced at 16-13 to Malaysia with a quarter of the match to go, but a second try for winger Mohd Azmir Bin Zanul Abdin and scores from midfield duo Jone Mawara Nasalo and Atunasia Lacadamu Takubu put the game beyond doubt even though a second penalty try was awarded to Singapore.
Sri Lanka emerged as runners-up behind Malaysia after a 25-21 victory over the Philippines, who finish in third.
Flanker Jason Dissanayake touched down twice for the Tuskers, who were still smarting from their heavy midweek loss to Malaysia, while centre Kanchana Ramanayake added another. Full-back Riza Mubarak contributed 10 points from his boot through two conversions and two penalties.
Sri Lanka climb three places in the rankings to 37th, while two defeats by identical margins – they lost 28-24 to Singapore on Wednesday –have seen the Philippines fall eight places to 57th.
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