A pretty poor Japan easily contained Hong Kong’s women who lost 30-3 in the second and final match of the Asia Rugby Women’s Championship (ARWC) in Tokyo today. The win ensured Japan comfortably clinched the ARWC title, which was this year fought out between only two sides due to the withdrawal of Kazakhstan.
Hong Kong coach Jo Hull’s post match interview was full of positive cliches and comments (see below) about character and positivity but especially in the first half Japan were poor and yet Hong Kong failed to turn field position and possession into points. Hong Kong’s play was slow and painfully predictable and despite spending considerable time close to the Japan try line in the first quarter they never looked like scoring a try.
Ignoring the many handling and set piece errors the team were a step too slow mentally and physically. Rather than assessing what they saw infront of them, it was like ‘we’re here, we must do this’ which is all well and good but easily defended. When Hong Kong did penetrate it was instinctive and that faster speed of thought created the openings…. Patterns and structure are good, but the continually improving quality of the women’s game means that when an opponents structure has a weak point a player must instinctively attack it, taking a second to realise it’s there means it’s gone before you can take advantage.
“The character was there today,” Hull said, “We went out with a real belief that we could win and we showed some positive signs. In the second half, our defensive structure was there but they started to generate momentum in attack and some really poor decisions put us under pressure.
“We had a good 50 minutes but that’s not good enough. Whilst we did improve, which is what I asked the team to do, it still wasn’t a good enough performance at this level,” Hull added.
Japan were again the more switched on in the opening minutes of the game and easily scored the first try of the game, with prop Saki Minami driving over the line. Hong Kong responded well to the early set back and dictated play for a period, finding itself within metres of the line on a couple of occasions.
After spending some time off the ground in the first half for a concussion test after a heavy hit, Rose Fong Siu-lan returned to the field and provided a spark. Hong Kong’s relentless attacking earned it a penalty, with Aggie Poon Pak-yan opening the scoring for the visitors 16 minutes in.
When not in control of the ball in the first half, Hong Kong defended resolutely with scrum-half Colleen Tjosvold and centre Natasha Olson-Thorne leading from the front.
Japan, with Mizuki Homma and Yuki Ito to the fore punished Hong Kong in the lead up to the break and a try to winger Homma ensured the home side a 10-3 half-time lead.
A determined and persistent Hong Kong again matched Japan in the opening stages of the second half, but a try to Miki Terauchi after 56 minutes of play ended the away side’s hopes and the Sakura struck again nine minutes later, with Yuki Sue crossing after a sustained attacking effort from Japan. This opened the floodgates and turned what had been a tightly fought contest into another blow out, with tries to Riho Kurogi and Ai Hyugaji in the final 10 minutes stretching the margin out to 27 points.
“Their skills under pressure are better than ours. It really is as simple as that and that has to be our key focus going forward. You can have the best game plan in the world but you have to be able to execute under pressure,” Hull said.
Hong Kong showed some improvement in the scrum but was again let down by its lineout work, especially early.
“Our accuracy and decision making were issues, we lost our first three lineouts and at this level you can’t do that,” Hull said. “That was disappointing because that was a huge improvement area in Singapore.”
Fullback Adrienne Garvey and prop Lau Nga-wun also gave good accounts of themselves for Hong Kong as Hull now looks ahead to the Women’s Rugby World Cup qualifying period in December.
“We are now very aware of what we need to work on and we’ve got a committed group to do that. The responsibility has to be on us as coaches and the players to improve our skills and that’s through working harder and making sure we prioritise that over the summer, along with our fitness,” Hull added.
Hong Kong have the talent within the squad to compete and beat Japan, but realistically need to play more challenging games against players they don’t see every week and whose strengths and weaknesses they know. Perhaps the Premiership sides should have games against the top Japanese and Chinese clubs or a women’s professional squad similar to the men’s could make tours of Europe. Yes it costs money, which the HKRU has lots of, and commitment from the players but you sense that given the opportunity many would take it. And for now as the women’s game grows and with the talent we have the chance exists, can the HKRU stop their blinkered focus on the men’s game long enough to take advantage in away that the team couldn’t on the pitch today. We HongKongers can only hope so.
Additional reporting and image: HKRU