Hong Kong are within touching distance of a first-ever appearance at a Women’s Rugby World Cup after brushing Fiji aside 45-7 in the opening match of the Asia/Oceania WRWC 2017 qualification tournament.
Jo Hull's side looked impressive as they ran in seven tries past an ill-disciplined Fijiana outfit, much to the delight of the partisan home crowd at Kings Park, and they are now favourites to take one of the two remaining places set aside for the Asia/Oceania region at next year's flagship tournament.
Victory for Japan against the Pacific Islanders on Tuesday at King’s Park would wrap up the qualification picture before Saturday’s finale between Hong Kong and the Asian champions at Hong Kong Football Club.
Natasha Olson-Thorne got Hong Kong up and running under the floodlights with her first try on 13 minutes, which fellow centre Adrienne Garvey converted.
Hong Kong doubled their lead, on 25 minutes, when Australian referee Rachel Horton awarded them a penalty try after an illegal shoulder charge from Esiteri Bulikiobo prevented a certain score in the corner. The tight-head prop became the first of three Fijiana players to be sent to the sin-bin in the first half.
She was soon joined on the sidelines by centre and vice-captain Talica Vodo and then second-rower Laisa Taga completed the unwanted hat-trick before the half was out after another reckless high challenge near her own try-line.
Hong Kong took advantage to close out the half with a third try, scored by hooker Karen Hoi Ting So from a well-worked catch-and-drive, which Garvey once again converted to make the half-time score 21-0.
Hong Kong wasted little time in pulling further clear at the start of the second half, Garvey putting her winger, Ka Yan Chong, over in the corner. Garvey maintained her flawless kicking record by landing a magnificent touchline conversion.
Fijiana found a quick response through their forwards, replacement Sereima Leweniqila touching down two minutes after taking to the field for their only try of the match. Merewalesi Rokouono’s conversion went in off the right-hand post.
But with 54 minutes gone Hong Kong hit straight back, flanker Amelie Seure hit a great line to take the ball at pace before finding Wing Ni Winnie Siu with an inside ball. Gordon strolled under the posts and Garvey added the extras to make it 35-7.
Gordon then landed the only penalty of the game to take her personal tally to 13 points, before Olson-Thorne shrugged off some suspect tackles to stroll home from 30 metres. Garvey rounded off a fine evening’s work by kicking her seventh conversion from seven attempts.
The winner of the triangular qualifying tournament will go to WRWC 2017 in Dublin next August as Asia/Oceania 1, where they will face hosts Ireland as well as France and Australia in Pool C, while the runner-up will join WRWC 2014 runners-up Canada, New Zealand and Wales in Pool A.