03 Sep 2016

The Hong Kong Rugby Union men’s seven showed strong in the opening leg of the Asia Rugby Sevens Series 2016, winning their home event and the first of three Series legs this season. The women’s seven finished third overall after a convincing win over Thailand, 36-7.

Hong Kong beat Sri Lanka 22-17 in the first men’s final between the sides since the inception of the Series in 2011. Hong Kong successfully defended the title of their home event after they beat South Korea 40-0 in the final of the first Asia Rugby Sevens Series tournament held here in 2014.

It was also Hong Kong’s second victory over Sri Lanka in two days after blanking the visitors in their final pool match on Saturday, 22-0.

This time Sri Lanka made Hong Kong work much harder as they jumped out to an early 7-0 lead after Hong Kong had trouble controlling the kick-offs. It was the first time that Hong Kong had trailed in any match over the course of the tournament.

Tries from forwards James Cunningham and Chris Maize gave Hong Kong back the lead 12-7 by half-time but renewed Sri Lankan pressure from the kick-off led to another early try for the visitors as they drew level at 12-all.

Sri Lanka ramped up the pressure after crossing over for a second try in the opening two minutes of the half to extend their lead to 17-12.

With the match on the line, it was Hong Kong’s veteran sevens star Rowan Varty who combined well with forward Mike Coverdale to bring the ball down cleanly for the first time in the final giving Hong Kong a solid attacking platform.

The hosts quickly moved the ball to the Sri Lanka try-line with Coverdale nearly crossing over in the corner before Lee Jones muscled over from phase play in close to put Hong Kong back in the match at 17-all. Player of the tournament Ben Rimene slotted the pressure conversion from the near touch-line to push Hong Kong out to 19-17 with less than two minutes remaining.

Hong Kong maintained the pressure, forcing Sri Lanka to concede a late penalty, which Rimene converted for a 22-17 win over a Sri Lanka team that should figure prominently in the Series.

“It was a good test and Sri Lanka played very well,” said Hong Kong coach Gareth Baber. “Their reaction to the ball was better than ours and their kick-off strategy put us under real pressure. We weren’t accurate enough and in fourteen minutes you lose a few of those and it’s a different game.

“But I’m pleased with what we achieved. We showed common sense and a good rugby brain to get us out of the hole and a good will to win from 12 guys that worked hard all weekend,” Baber added.

He was especially pleased with the consistency shown by his team throughout the weekend: “That’s always big. Every time you go up against tougher and tougher opposition you want to see that in evidence. It is something we’ve talked a lot about in training in terms of improving our ability to go and play against the best in the world. There was a lot of consistency about us this weekend, which gave us that confidence to go out in a tight final to win it out,” Baber said.

Hong Kong take 12 points from the first Series event with two more tournaments to come. Sri Lanka finished with 10 points from the first outing while South Korea took out eight points as third place winners with China taking seven points from its fourth place standing.

Baber is aware that the challenge will only get tougher from here on out: “The next two legs are going to be tough. We have to go to Korea and Sri Lanka and both of those teams featured prominently here. They will be very comfortable on their home soil and we’re going to have to up our game again, but that is the challenge. Every time we go to these tournaments we want to up our level to get past the next one and the next one, that is what drives us all forward in Asian rugby,” Baber concluded.

Hong Kong advanced to the final after beating South Korea 28-14 in the semis, while Sri Lanka beat China 19-17 in a match with three lead changes in the dying minutes.

Hong Kong women claim third place with win over Thailand

The China women’s team dashed Hong Kong’s hopes for a second cup final appearance at their home tournament with a 19-7 win in this morning’s cup semi final. A slow start proved disastrous for the hosts against China, as the visitors dominated possession and territory en route to a 12-0 lead at the half.

Hong Kong brough the score back to within a try at 12-7 by Natasha Olson-Thorne in the second half, but China was too strong with a late tally to earn them a spot in the Cup Final.

“We had a better second half, but we gave away some cheap tries early on and we can’t afford to do that,” said Hong Kong coach Anna Richards.

“We have got to make better use of the ball when we have it. In the second half we were a lot better, there was greater urgency and we scored a good try, but we probably should have scored a couple more with the amount of ball we had,” Richards added.

The loss sent Hong Kong to the third/fourth place play-off against Thailand who had earlier lost to Japan in their semi final.

In the play-off, Hong Kong fired out of the starting blocks posting three unanswered first half tries with a brace from Aggie Poon Pak-yan bookending a try from Ivy Kwong Sau-yan giving them a 19-0 cushion.

On the back foot for the entirety of the game, Thailand’s only reply came from the kick-off of the second half, as Hong Kong expressed itself with three more tries in the second half to run out 36-7 winners.

“It’s nice to finish like that, but it’s been a disappointing weekend in some aspects. We have done some things quite well and when we give ourselves the opportunity to attack we look quite good, but we have to be able to do that in the big pressure games,” Richards added.

“This is a good start and we have two tournaments still to come. Our aim is to make the final in the next leg and to do that we need to work on keeping our composure and making the most of what we have in front of us. We turned the ball over too quickly and gave away too many cheap tries this weekend. If we continue to do that then we are going to be on the back foot from the start,” said Richards.

Hong Kong take eight points from this weekend’s third place finish behind eventual champions Japan on 12 points and runners-up China on 10.

Hong Kong will travel to South Korea’s Namdong Rugby Ground for the second of three legs on this year’s series on 24 and 25 September.