29 Sep 2019

It was a mission “half accomplished” for the Hong Kong men’s sevens squad in Sri Lanka after they reached their third cup final from three in Colombo, a result good enough to finish second in Asia after losing to Japan, 12-17.  

The season-long finish sees Hong Kong safely through to the two-leg, 16-team qualification series for the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series 2020/2021 next year in South America - a winnowing competition to get to eight teams for the final qualifier at the Cathay Pacific/HSBC Hong Kong Sevens. Hong Kong also qualified as top seeds for the Olympic qualifiers in Korea Nov 23-24.

Indicating the high standards in the squad, coach Paul John would only go so far as to say it was a mission “half accomplished only, I guess, as we really wanted to win the Asian Series. We finished level with Japan on points, but they won on head to heads.

“We probably should have scored on our first possession in the final. We had a chance, but we didn’t take it. Then  we gave them some tries off of a few errors, maybe, but in the second half we were excellent. We threw everything at them and played without fear. We showed great character and they were nervous.”

For John, there were a lot of positives from the series and some warnings.

John complimented his entire squad after using 19 players across the Series - with a few young guns in particular shining on their season debuts as Raef Morrison and Liam Herbert top-scored for Hong Kong on their first appearances this season in Huizhou and Colombo respectively.

“Against China, we were poor again in the first half, but in the second we were really, really good and the way we closed that out showed real character. The fact that we used so many players is a plus as well. We made changes for every tournament and have really grown the depth in the squad. In the past, I am not sure we could have stuck with a game like that final, producing a second half like we did, but now the bench is making a massive impact.

“We are difficult to play now, Japan and China scored on us but no one else did. The way we came back in those final 90 seconds against China, and that second half against Japan, showed how strong our bench depth is and that the boys come on with real grit. We have got to learn from this experience now, there was positives but we have to learn form these moments, because there are bigger stages yet to come,” John added.

Herbert repaid his first selection of the campaign with a prolific weekend, scoring five tries, as did another emerging cog in Seb Brien.  Herbert’s total included the final two scores in the last minute to pull Hong Kong clear of China in an exhausting cup semi-final, 24-19, after coming back from a 19-5 deficit in the final three minutes.

Japan had the easier route to the showcase, beating Sri Lanka 45-0, and it showed, as Hong Kong fell behind 17-0 after conceding three tries in the final two minutes of the half.  Japan were superior at the re-start in the opening stages, producing all three scores off of Hong Kong difficulties claiming the ball.   Matters at the re-start worsened at the end of the half when Herbert and Jamie Hood had a clash of heads in recovering a kick-off with both sidelined for the second half.

Japan matched their offensive prowess with a flawless defensive effort in the second half, stopping numerous Hong Kong drives on the try-line. Max Denmark ultimately crossed over in the corner to close the gap to 17-5, but Japan had effectively chewed enough clock to run out safe winners before Raef Morrison crossed over for a consolation try late to bring the final score to 17-12.

Hong Kong battled it out with China in the semi, in a tense affair that saw Hong Kong trailing 19-5 with three minutes left before the bench came on to rescue victory from the jaws of defeat. Herbert scored twice in the last 90 seconds, both tallies set up by his unique, flying limb running style, with his last tally coming deep in extra time to rescue the win for Hong Kong.

Hong Kong beat South Korea 45-0 in the final pool game this morning, with another class performance as they completed pool play without conceding a point in a sterling defensive performance.

Colombo proved challenging for the women’s seven, both physically and on the table, as Hong Kong fell out of the cup competition for the first time this season, finishing in fifth overall on the series, just out of the running for admission to the women’s seven series qualifiers next year.

The squad will now switch focus to fighting for a spot at the 2020 Games in Tokyo and they showed they have the resiliency to do it, after bouncing back from their disappointment and a rash of injuries to claim the plate, beating Singapore 22-5.  

With Natasha Olson-Thorne at home, and without the services of captain Melody Li and Nam Ka-man for large portions of the tournament through injury, it was up to veterans Sham Wai-sum and Jessica Ho Wai-on to step into the breach. With Ho as captain and Sham and Jess Eden coming up with some key tries, and the customary hard-charging impact of Sarah Lucas, Hong Kong came back from early deficits on day two against Sri Lanka and Malaysia, winning both 22-10, to reach the Plate decider.

There they took out their frustrations on Singapore, although it was harder going than expected as Hong Kong showed some natural fatigue with players having to play significant minutes given the injuries. Still Hong Kong’s defensive effort was unimpeachable as they produced both of their tries off turnovers in the first half to lead 12-0 at the break - with Jessica Eden and Sarah Lucas the beneficiaries of overlaps created by the defensive hustle.

It was more of the same in the second as Poon Hoi-yan and Ivy Kwong Sau-yan produced turnover ball for Sham Wai-sum and Poon herself to score twice more in the final seven minutes while allowing a consolation for Singapore at the death to win 22-5.