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Russia Rule as Hong Kong Falter

HONG KONG—Russia successfully defended their Cup of Nations title on Saturday, comfortably beating Hong Kong 27-0 in the final. The results leading up to the final, gave Hong Kog cause for optimism; it proved a false dawn. On the day, Russia outclassed and out-thought Hong Kong to show there is sizeable gulf between teams ranked No 21 and No 25 in World Rugby rankings. 

Russia unsettled Hong Kong from the outset of the match, using the physicality of their forward pack to dominate opening passage of play. Within 10 minutes Russia had scored twice. The first by No 8 Pavel Butenko. The conversion was missed by flyhalf Yurii Kushnarev. The second by flanker Tagir Gadzhiev, charging down a poor Hong Kong clearance; this time Kushnarev was successful with the extra points. Russia led 12-0.

This was a blow to Hong Kong’s confidence, and likely game-plan. Instead of weathering the onslaught, they leaked two tries, and needed to chase the game. Russia could relax; absorb Hong Kong pressure and counter-attack.

By halftime, Russia had extended their lead to 15-0 with a penalty by Kushnarev.

Despite playing better in the second half and mounting many attacks into the Russian 22, Hong Kong could not breech the Russian defense, lacking precision to make pressure and territory count. Russia coped with whatever Hong Kong attempted, and the tactical nous of Kushnarev and fullback Ramil Gaysin sapped energy out of the Hong Kong attack.

In the final 10 minutes Russia scored two more tries: both by their powerful winger Denis Simplikevich, the first on 70 minutes at the corner flag and the second at the final whistle, when a chip over the top was snatched by Simplikevich just beating Ryan Meacheam, to run in for a celebration try.

Russia will be delighted with their victory. Hong Kong, despite losing, contested well for much of the game. They conceded tries in the first and final ten minutes of the game; showing (perhaps) nerves at the outset and (possibly) fitness and cohesion at the end. Conceding early tries, meant Hong Kong game-plan shifted from a possible upset to damage limitation. The match was a good reality check on what’s needed to achieve Top Twenty status in World Rugby, and the chance to qualify for Tokyo in 2019.

In the earlier match Zimbabwe beat Papua New Guinea 38-11.

The Cup of Nations finished with Russia on top with 14points; followed by Hong Kong with 10 points; Zimbabwe 7points and Papua New Guinea with nil. HKRU and Regal Hotels, the Cup of Nations, was an excellent tournament and competition for tier two/three international teams needing a competitive platform during the Autumn International window.

Grahame Carder is a sports enthusiast, former player and now resident in Hong Kong.

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