Asia Rugby Championship - Hong Kong China 52-5 UAE: Dragons Open ARC Title Defence with 8-Try Victory - Ruck

Asia Rugby Championship – Hong Kong China 52-5 UAE: Dragons Open ARC Title Defence with 8-Try Victory

By Etienne Turpin

Reigning ARC champions Hong Kong China scored eight tries as their title defence began in style, as they claimed a dominant win over the UAE. Doubles from Tommy Hill and Harry Laidler helped the home side hit 50 points as the UAE, who took a shock lead early on, faced a brutal return to Asia’s elite competition

The UAE were promoted to the elite level of Asia Rugby following their two dominant wins over Pakistan in Lahore last July (95-0, 93-3) but faced a stellar test as their opening match fell to heavy favourites for the title, Hong Kong China. Asian rugby suffered massively during Covid with many nations not having played a single test match but Hong Kong Chinas 10 matches (including a game against a Brumbies ‘A’ side meant that Andrew Douglas’ men were much more ready physically for the challenge.

Hong Kong China would have the likes of Jack Neville and Alexander Post on the bench, both playing their rugby in England for Nottingham and Richmond. France based Paul Altier starts at 15 following a late withdrawal from fly half Glyn Hughes. On the other hand,  UAE do not have any players based outside of the country.

Despite being heavy favourites, Hong Kong China were dominated in the early stages by the newly promoted UAE and were forced into multiple errors. Jacques Benade’s men looked comfortable with the ball but were penalised at a scrum, allowing Hong Kong China to clear.

The UAE stunned Hong Kong China when Emosi Vecenaua intercepted Axten-Burrett’s pass and ran in from 60 metres. It came following a powerful break from Luke van der Smith who bumped off many UAE defenders but as Hong Kong China looked to play wide, the big winger got in the way and stole the ball.

The home side failed to get on the score sheet when Tommy Hill pulled his penalty wide from 35 metres. The big number 12 not being a regular kicker stepped up after Glyn Hughes pulled out injured in the captains run.

But Hong Kong China eventually scored from a classic line-out drive and over went John McCormich-Houston to level the scores. Despite the difficult angle, Hill nailed the conversion and Hong Kong China finally took the lead.

Hong Kong China then scored two fantastic tries when Paul Altier, one of the few professional players in the team, beat Vecenaua to the ball after a lovely up-and-under from Avitabile and offloaded it to Laidler who ran in from 40 metres.

 Minutes later, another team try involving Altier and Avitabile was finished off by Laidler who once again ran in from 40 metres. The fullback opted for a counterattack and offloaded to Cinnamond who found the young 10 on his debut who glided past form poor attempted tackles before finding his scrum half for their third try of the game.

The side ranked 61st in the World were looking a bit shaky but regrouped and eased the pressure but were beginning to make more mistakes themselves with the humidity making the ball very slippery.

But Hong Kong China would eventually get their 4th try through Tom Hill who crashed over under the posts from close range. The initial break came from Charles Higson-Smith who broke past a couple of defenders before Seb Brien showed great determination to power himself close to the line.

The Emiratis had one more opportunity to score before halftime when they were awarded a scrum penalty but having struggled at lineout throughout the half, they wasted another chance as they lost the ball forward.

Hong Kong China started the second half in fine fashion as Hill went over for his second after hitting a brilliant line after Hong Kong China had set up the move with a strong driving maul. The kick was good and Hong Kong China’s lead was beginning to grow.

Try number six soon followed and was scored by Paul Altier after Seb Brien executed the two on one perfectly. Altier, one of Hong Kong China’s best players is currently for Chambéry in the French Nationale. Hill nailed the sideline conversion as the home side hit 40 points.

But the home side were temporarily down to 14 when hooker McCormich-Houston made contact Matthew Miles’ face. The contact was deemed passive which saw the offense get mitigated down to a yellow card.

The worsening weather made the second half a bit of an error fest as both teams still looked to play quick ball. Replacement scrum half, Camil Cheung looked to add tempo to the Hong Kong China attack with quick ball, but slippery conditions would result in numerous handing errors.

Hong Kong China eventually crossed the line again when a strong driving maul got the home side over. Alex Post, who plays for Richmond in England, got the try for his side. After his first attempt which went well wide of the post, Tommy Hill showed his class from the tee as he added the extra two, once more.

Hong Kong China would end the game in style as they scored a lovely long range try through Higson-Smith. The initial break was made by Jack Neville who showed great pace to glide past defenders before the ball was shifted wide and the big winger went over for Hong Kong China.

The UAE had one more chance at the end, but debutant scrum half Camil Cheung won a great turnover and Hong Kong China decided to end the game as they began their Asia Rugby Championship campaign with a 47-point victory.

Hong Kong China: 52

TRIES: 8 (McCormich-Houston 16’, Laidler 19’, 24’, Hill 43’, 45’, Altier 48’, Post 75’, Higson-Smith 78’)

CONVERSIONS: 6 (Hill 17’, 20’, 35’, 46’, 49’, 76’)



YELLOW CARDS: 1 (McCormich-Houston 50’)


15. Paul Altier, 14. Seb Brien, 13. Ben Axten-Burrett, 12. Tom Hill, 11. Charles Higson-Smith, 10 Matteo Avitabile, 9. Pat Joe Laidler, 1. Rory Cinnamond, 2. John McCormick-Houston, 3. Zac Cinnamond, 4. Jamie Pincott, 5. Kyle Sullivan, 6. Joshua Hrstich, 7. James Sawyer, 8. Luke van der Smith.

16. Alexander Post, 17. Chukwudi Edison, 18, Faizal Solomona Penesa, 19. Callum McCullough, 20. Tyler McNutt, 21. Camil Cheung, 22. Jack Neville, 23. Harry Sayers.

United Arab Emirates: 5

TRIES: 1 (Vecenaua 6’)






15. Matt Richards, 14. Emosi Vecenaua, 13. Rory Arthur, 12. Justin Walsh, 11. Sakiusa Naisau, 10. Jamie Gavin, 9. Andrew Semple, 1. Pieter Killian, 2. David Gairn, 3. Riaan Barnard, 4. Esekai Dranibota, 5. Marcus Guerin, 6. Epeli Davetawalu, 7. Matthew Miles, 8. Jaen Botes.

16. Sunia Laladidi, 17. Lukas Waddington, 18, Moeneeb Galant. 19, Chris McKee, 20. Liam Caldwell, 21. Connor Kennedy, 22. Carel Thomas, 23. Jonathan Harris.

Five Talking Points: Hong Kong China 52-5 UAE

  1. Defending Champions get off to winning start.

Despite the slow start, Hong Kong China got into gears and ran in numerous tries as they thrashed the United Arab Emirates on Saturday evening. Hong Kong China looking for a fifth straight title and begin their preparation for RWC 2027 in great fashion.

2. Hong Kong China extend their winning run.

Despite the limited fixtures, the Dragons won for the sixth consecutive time. Victories against Malaysia, South Korea, Kenya, Germany (twice), and now the UAE.

3. UAE show great determination on ARC return.

The United Arab Emirates last played in the ARC in 2013 but proved that they deserved their place after showing great determination against the heavy favourites. An early intercept try from Vecenaua shocked the home side but were unable to add more points after that.

4. Heavy rain impacts the second half.

Hong Kong China showed great attacking intent during the second, getting some lovely long range tries but the rain which intensified as the game went on affecting their attack as they dropped the ball on multiple occasions. Scrum half Camil Cheung looked to keep the pressure on the UAE, but slippery conditions made it complicated for the home side.

5. Important fixtures up next.

Next week, Hong Kong China travel to Malaysia to take on the Bunga Raya in Serdang whereas the UAE host South Korea at the Dubai 7s stadium. South Korea and Hong Kong China will be favourites for these clashes which should set up an exciting final round in what should a title decider for Hong Kong China and South Korea whereas Malaysia and the UAE could be facing off in a relegation battle.