Hong Kong’s Select XV, with eight players marking their senior debuts, lost to Kenya A 24-18 in Nairobi in the opening encounter of their two match tour.
The Kenya ‘A’ team featured some familiar names to those who watch sevens rugby, with the side led by Kenya’s sevens captain Innocent Simiyu and featuring sevens internationals Patrice Agunda, Mike Agevi and Dan Sikuta.
HK coach Leigh Jones’s pre-tour assessment of the opposition, when he summed up the two encounters as a test of Hong Kong’s collective organisation versus Kenya’s individual flair, proved correct with Kenya scoring several tries off counter attacks from deep within their own territory, including scoring twice in quick succession to open up the game shortly after half-time.
Hong Kong enjoyed the more positive start, attacking from deep early on to put the hosts under sustained pressure in the early stages. A series of minor miscues and unforced errors left the Kenyans’ dangerous attack stuttering and Hong Kong took full advantage of the gifted possession putting in sustained drives and penning Kenya deep in its half before the pressure told in the 20 minute. Winger Conor Hartley collected the ball off a driving attacking lineout deep in Kenya’s territory to barrel across the tryline for the first points of the match. The difficult touchline conversion attempt from Kjestrup was no good leaving Hong Kong 5-0 up.
Fiercely committed in defence, the intensity of the Kenyan tackling put the visitors on the back foot as Hong Kong began to concede possession. Late in the half, fullback Mike Avegi put the hosts on the scoreboard with a penalty to close the gap to 5-3. Hong Kong replied well moving the ball methodically up field and forcing the Kenyans into conceding a second penalty for Kjestrup who struck it well pushing Hong Kong ahead 8-3.
In an early warning sign for the visitors the game started to get loose as the half wore on with Hong Kong’s accuracy suffering as a result. The forwards responded again with another massive effort from Hong Kong’s scrum forcing the Kenyans to concede a kickable penalty that Kjestrup slotted home to push the lead to 11-3.
In injury time, the Kenyans ignited with winger Cyprian Kuto breaking away for a late try from deep in his own half. Avegi’s conversion was good and Kenya trailed 11-10 going into the break.
Kenya book-ended that momentum building score with another to start the second half as reserve back Samson Onsomu collected the ball off a turnover before tearing away for another lengthy try against the run of play. Scrumhalf Kelvin Masai was on target with his conversion as Kenya took its first lead 17-11.
Moments later, Kenya struck again from deep with Kuto securing his brace after capitalising on an overthrown lineout on his five-metre line. 95 metres, a clean pair of heels and a second Masai conversion later and Hong Kong were left trailing 24-11 after a display of individual skills.
Hong Kong battled back with reserve front rower Jack Parfitt scoring the riposte. Matthew Rosslee made the conversion to bring the visitors back within a converted try at 24-18 with fifteen minutes remaining but despite opportunities to draw level Hong Kong couldn’t cross the line before time expired.
After the match Jones commented “I’m never too happy with a loss but it was a worthwhile game. There is a lot to be pleased with. We controlled the first half and created several chances that we weren’t able to finish today. In the second half they hit us with those two breakaway tries and their tails were up. It was pretty textbook in many ways to what we said before the tour. If your accuracy isn’t there or if you slip off the tackles with these guys they have the power and pace to make you pay and that was the case.”
“The experiment in coming here to look at guys under test pressure was a success and we got a lot from it. Now we’ll look to regroup and work on some of our accuracy issues and lick our wounds for the test,” Jones concluded.
Eight Hong Kong players made their senior squad debuts last night including Premiership standouts Ben Roberts and Matthew Rosslee, both of whom will likely win their first caps in Saturday’s test. Also among the new faces was former U20s captain Mike Parfitt, who formed a locking duo with Fin Field playing in just his second senior match. U20s sevens captain Hugo Stiles started at fullback while his long-time backline partner Liam Owens came off the reserves bench in the second half.
“I’m really pleased with the young lads. They performed well. Mike Parfitt and Fin Field were strong in the second row and Liam Owens did well when he came on. Young Hugo Stiles at fullback showed the class that he has,” said Jones.
Hong Kong Sevens players are not involved in the tour as they train for the upcoming Asia Rugby Sevens Series which kicks off on 2 September at HK Football Club.
Hong Kong Select:
1. Adam Fullgrabe, 2. Jamie Tsang, 3. Rohan Cook, 4. Mike Parfitt*, 5. Fin Field, 6. Tony Wong, 7. Joey Cheung Ho-Yin*, 8. Nick Hewson (Captain), 9. Charles Cheung Ho-Ning, 10. Jason Kjestrup*, 11. Conor Hartley*, 12. Jamie Robinson, 13. Matt Rosslee*, 14. Jonny Rees, 15. Hugo Stiles*. Reserves: 16. Ben Roberts*, 17. Ben Higgins, 18. Jack Parfitt, 19. Dan Falvey, 20. Matt Lamming, 21. Charlie Higson-Smith, 22. Liam Owens*, 23. Adam Rolston
* on debut
Additional reporting and photo: HKRU