A solid start from the visitors which caught the unsettled home team under pressure, helped them survive a strong Cook Islands comeback to win 26-3 at the BCI Stadium on Saturday.
The win has put Hong Kong in the driver’s seat ahead of the second match this Saturday.
It’s not over yet for the Cook Islands though, and a massive win by more than 23 points would see them through to the next stage of the qualification.
In the opening clash, the national side, which fielded 10 debutantes in the starting line-up, were left back-pedaling as Hong Kong took the battle deep into their territory.
After a succession of attacks, Hong Kong number 8 Thomas Lamboley barged through with the opening try in the third minute to put the side up by 5-0.
Cook Islands tried to find their way back early into the match, but their jittery start continued as Hong Kong, aided by their powerful drives, and some scintillating piece of play, crossed the whitewash again through scrumhalf Liam Slatem in the 12th minute. Fly-half Matt Rosslee failed to add the extras, but Hong Kong extended the lead to 10-0.
With ball in hand, the Sam Anderson-Heather-skippered Cook Islands showed glimpses of a much-improved play and an infringement in a ruck from the Hong Kong presented them with the first real chance to get some points.
Greg Mullany stepped up and slotted the 18th minute penalty to score the team’s only points in the match as Hong Kong maintained the lead at 10-3.
Cook Islands’ slight dominance failed to dampen the spirit of the Hong Kong side as they regained possession and drove deep down the opposition territory to get their third try through lanky winger Conor Hartley in the 29th minute, extending their lead to 15-3.
Possession of the ball changed hands as Cook Islands tried hard to get their opening try but poor execution got the better of those opportunities.
Hong Kong extended their lead to 18-3 on the stroke of half-time from fly-half Rosslee, who booted his first points in the match.
After a series of changes from both sides, Hong Kong found themselves in a better position again with a penalty and Rosslee’s successful kick saw the side take their lead further to 21-3.
With possession, Cook Islands looked quite dangerous as their bulky forwards aided by the fiery backline players made some good gains, but lost control of the ball in crucial stages of the play.
Hong Kong sealed the 26-3 win with their fourth try from centre Max Woodward in the 70th minute.
“I think there were parts of our game that we think we did well and there were other parts which was disappointing,” said Cook Islands captain Anderson-Heather.
“We created some opportunities, which is promising but that’s only half the job. There were four or five really good opportunities to score, but we came up with nothing.
“I guess a good side like them also let us down. They did not make that many mistakes, they are a well-drilled side and we need to be better this weekend.”
The winner of this qualification series will go through to the repechage tournament which will determine the final spot in the RWC 2019.