The FWD South China Tigers dropped its first ever match in the Global Rapid Rugby Asian Showcase Series to pre-season favourites and hosts Western Force last night at HBF Park in Perth, 45-22. Global Rapid Rugby’s debut lived up to its billing with 52 points scored in a frenetic first half.

In a creditable performance considering that the full squad only gathered earlier this month, the South China Tigers also proved they have some bite, as they came back from a 16-3 deficit early on to trail 30-22 at the break. An end-to-end first half saw four lead changes, with Hong Kong taking the early honours after fly-half Glyn Hughes struck the opening points of the first ever Showcase Series match, and the first ever points for the FWD South China Tigers - an early penalty that settled the nerves and handed the Tigers a 3-0 lead.

The Force replied almost instantly with a try from forward Leon Power. Under pressure in their 22 from a fierce rush defence, the Tigers returned possession to the hosts with a looping box kick. The Force repeatedly attacked the Tigers line with ball carriers queuing up on the fringes before Power crashed over for a 7-3 lead after captain Ian Prior’s conversion. The Force extended that lead with the first POWER Try of the year as Fijian winger Masivesi Dakuwaqa capped a free-flowing move that originated behind the Force’s 22, for an instant nine point reward as the hosts’ lead 16-3.

Tigers prop Tau Kolomatangi set up the next try after the Force bobbled the re-start. The juggernaut Kiwi bowled through the middle of the park before being felled ten metres from the line. Hughes collected the ball and capitalised on a sizeable gap to score; he converted his try to close the deficit to 16-10. The Tigers re-took the lead after a penalty try was awarded at the finish of a footrace between Daquwaka and Tom Varndell, set up by a well-weighted kick to space by scrumhalf Bryn Phillips. Daquwaka batted the ball out intentionally at the try-line and was handed a yellow card for the infraction while the Tigers collected an automatic seven-pointer, edging ahead 17-16 with the man advantage coming.

The Force’s forwards stepped up in Daquwaka’s absence, manhandling the Tigers scrum to slowly but surely wrest the game back. Despite the numbers disadvantage, the Force struck twice in quick succession with fly half Andrew Deegan finishing off an easy try to push the lead to 23-17, before the pack was rewarded when prop Kieran Longbottom crossed over to grow the score to 30-17.

Alex Post continues to press his claims as the in-form hooker in Hong Kong when he scored to lift the Tigers before half time. The mobile front rower was on the spot to capitalise off of a Deegan miscue. Hughes’ conversion was off the mark but the Tigers were in it at the break down 30-22.

Unfortunately for the visitors that was their last score of the match, as the Tigers fell off the pace in the second half, and their struggles to secure possession continued. The hosts would score twice more tries in the final stanza to run out 45-22 winners and claim the maximum two bonus points for scoring four or more tries and winning by a three tries or greater margin. That lifts them to the top of the table in the Asian showcase, which includes the Asia Pacific Dragons from Singapore, on six points.

The Tigers will be better for their first hunt as they continue to adjust to the intensity and pace of Rapid Rugby, something captain James Cunningham admitted post-match, saying, “Rapid Rugby is bl--dy quick that’s for sure, - but we have got to get used to it. We have been playing a lot of international rugby recently and this is a lot faster. We are really enjoying playing the new rules and the boys adapted well. Unfortunately we made too many errors and they cost us.

“That first game [Ed.: the Force beat a World XV last week] really helped them out and they scored some unbelievable tries. But it was an outstanding occasion tonight and this is exactly what we need to develop and promote the game at home.”

Force fly-half Deegan was equally complimentary saying, “They really put the pressure on and scored some great tries. For how many weeks they have had together and coming over here, you know, I don’t know what they are going to be like over there when we visit. It’s a credit to the standard of players that thy have in their national team and domestic game. It’s an exciting time ahead and both teams tonight were really positive and looked to put points on the board.”

The team will return to the Tigers den at Aberdeen Stadium for their first home match against Asia Pacific Dragons on 21 April. Tickets are available via www.zoonga.com.au/globalrapidrugby.

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