HONG KONG withstood a strong second-half fight-back from Zimbabwe in Harare on Sunday to record their first-ever World Rugby U20 Trophy triumph.
After a first-half “free-for-all” which produced 10 tries and a 44-28 lead in their favour, Hong Kong held on for a pulsating 44-40 win.
Zimbabwe hooker Lebogang Ngwenya opened the scoring after just three minutes, finishing off his own quickly-taken line-out inside the Hong Kong 22.
But Hong Kong then reeled off three unanswered tries in the space of six minutes – outside centre James Karton grabbing the first after a fine handling move involving outside backs Matt Worley and James Christie.
Zimbabwe gifted Hong Kong their next try when attempts to run the ball inside their own 22 ended in disaster.
Austin Robertshaw gratefully accepted an easy run-in after a spilled pass and the junior Sables soon found themselves 20-6 in arrears after fly-half Liam Owen also broke through and scored.Zimbabwe captain Connor Pritchard led the fight-back with a 15th-minute try, before right winger Sam Phiri showed great footballing skills to regather his own kick ahead before twisting and turning his way out of a tackle to go over in the corner.
The host team took the lead as a breathless first quarter came to a close when a break from livewire scrum-half Ernest Mudzengerere led to a try for Phiri’s fellow wing Tawanda Ngosi.
Parity was soon restored though as Robertshaw got on the end of an inside pass from fullback Christie for his second after a good break down the left by Karton. Owens stepped up to nail a difficult conversion.
Scrum-half Jack Combes scampered over from a quickly-taken tap penalty for try number five before Worley rounded off an incredible first 40 minutes after Zimbabwe had been reduced to 13 men following yellow cards for dangerous tackles by Ngwenya and number eight Daniel Nyamugama.Advertisement
Zimbabwe needed to get the first score of the second half to stay in touch and duly obliged when second-row Aidan Burnett burst off the back of an attacking scrum and powered through tackles from Ben Tang Cheuk-hang and Owens.
The hosts continued to dominate territory and possession but a lack of composure in attack allied to strong breakdown work – especially from Hong Kong number eight Pierce Mackinlay-West – prevented them scoring more points until the 73rd minute.After the ball had been delivered safely down the line, Angus Bruce and Tarisai Mapfumo combined in midfield to put the winger through.
From then on Hong Kong controlled the game well and, with Worley delivering a crucial tackle on Ngosi with just two minutes to go, they played out the closing stages deep in Zimbabwe’s half to claim seventh place in the tournament and their first match win after three consecutive World Rugby U20 Trophy tournaments.
Later on Sunday, Samoa and Spain served up a classic final with the Europeans leading by eight points with nine minutes to go and threatening a major upset against the side relegated from the top-tier World Rugby U20 Championship in 2015.
But number eight Elia Elia struck with his hat-trick try – duly converted by fly-half D’Angelo Leuila – to hand Samoa a lifeline which they gratefully accepted three minutes into sudden-death extra-time when replacement back Tivoli Masaga crossed over in the corner for a 38-32 tournament victory.
In the final day’s other matches, Fiji held off a Namibia fight-back to win their third-place play-off 44-30, while USA beat Uruguay 32-30 to finish fifth.