15 Sep 2018

Hong Kong turned in a successful outing at the Asia Rugby Sevens Series opener, the first of three events on this year’s Series, with the men finishing second behind Japan and the women finishing fourth.


The men set up a re-match of the Asian Games final at Hong Kong Football Club after beating the Philippines 42-7 in the last pool match before dispatching Sri Lanka, 31-0, in the semi-final.


Hong Kong entered the final having posted 228 points while conceding just seven, leaving coach Paul John concerned that his side had not been tested enough entering the showcase match.  Those concerns looked unfounded in the first half with Hong Kong turning over Japan from the kick-off, and dominating the opening possession and territory stakes.  


Unfortunately for the hosts they couldn’t translate that pressure into points, with the score nil-all at the break.


The second half was a mirror image of the first, as Japan exerted its dominance in the evenly matched battle between Asia’s sevens superpowers. That dominance started from the opening kick-off with unforced errors proving crucial for Hong Kong, as a bobbled take by the defence led to Japan’s first try at the start of the half.  


More errors led to more scoring opportunities for Japan, who capitalized accordingly, as they pitched the shutout against Hong Kong, 12-0.


“That was a good Japan side,” said a disappointed Paul John after the final.


“I think they were better than the one we played two weeks ago at the Asian Games, but that doesn’t take away the fact that we played into their hands in the final a bit.


“We played into their hands by going straight at them really, which we didn’t do too much of at the Asian Games. We turned too much ball over in contact and it was our fault, first and foremost, for not securing that kick-off that led to their try.


“There was nothing in that game. We had two errors and conceded two tries. We weren’t making those errors at the start of the weekend, but we made them in the final, when the pressure was different.

“We just need to learn from it. We won two weeks ago and we can’t just expect to win again. The boys will be disappointed with how we performed in that last game,” John added.


The women’s seven reached the match many had tipped them for at the Asian Games, progressing to the third place final against Kazakhstan, bronze medalists in Jakarta, before bowing out.


Coach Kevin West called on his side to produce three consistent performances today and he largely got them, as Hong Kong extended its recent mastery over South Korea with a 34-0 pool stage win before mounting a brave fight against China in the semi finals, succumbing 19-14.


In the third place play-off, Hong Kong’s consistency and accuracy wavered, although that was partially forced by pressure generated from a very physical Kazakhstan team.


Hong Kong were on defence from the opening whistle, digging deep for a try-saving tackle in the first minute.  Hong Kong survived Kazakhstan’s early forays and, assisted by a high first half penalty count against the visitors, were able to mount their first attack of the match.


The Kazakhstan defence was up to the challenge and were able to mount a strong counter-attack out wide with the burly forwards waiting on the wings using their long arms to good advantage by fending off Stephanie Chan’s tackle to score the opening try in the fourth minute.


Leading 7-0, Kazakhstan lengthened its advantage in the second half, with help from Hong Kong who over-cooked its re-start kick to give Kazakhstan possession off the bat.  The visitors made Hong Kong pay by scoring a quick try to start the final stanza.  


Hong Kong had a glimmer of hope after Kazakhstan were handed a yellow card with under three minutes remaining, but could not muster any attack with their numerical advantage. The hosts scored a consolation try through Aggie Poon in the corner with the visitors back at full strength, before Kazakhstan replied at the hooter to run out 14-5 winners.


West chalked up some of his side’s miscues to the strenuous route to the play-off this afternoon, through China and Kazakhstan, the two biggest sides in Asia.


“We got up a lot for that game against China and we got a lot of things right in that game. Against Kazakhstan, we weren’t as accurate and that could have been the impact of the physicality that they brought, which China also brought.”


Although disappointed with today’s results, West says his squad remains on track.

“Our goal is still the same, to finish in the top three. We are fourth now and we are going to have to improve next time and continue to do so in the one after that,” he said.


West’s projections are borne up by Hong Kong’s recent results, as they climbed from fifth overall at the Asian Games to fourth this weekend and will be targeting a top three finish in Incheon.


“I’m really pleased that the girls are coming together and showing great fight throughout these tournaments. For the first time, we are leaving a tournament for the first time with the girls knowing that they could have easily finished third or been in the final. That is a real step forward for us,” West added.


Japan maintained its hot hand in the women’s competition beating China for a second straight cup final 12-7. Kazakhstan won the bronze in the women’s competition while Sri Lanka took third in the men’s.


The top ranked finishers on this year’s series (excluding World Series qualified team Japan) will earn an invite as the 16th team at the HSBC Singapore Rugby Sevens in 2019, while the top two non-Japanese finishers will earn slots at the international World Rugby Sevens Series qualifier played as part of the Cathay Pacific/HSBC Hong Kong Sevens in April for a shot to earn a full-time spot on the World Series.

The top women’s side on the series table when the dust settles – excluding World Series side China, will receive an invite to play at the 20190 Kitakyushu Sevens in Japan while the two highest ranked finishers outside of China will represent Asia at the women’s world series qualifiers in Hong Kong in early 2019.