24 Mar 2019

Hong Kong’s men’s squad finished as runners-up at the Borneo Sevens after losing a thriller, 19-14, to the host Borneo Eagles in the final. The Women lost the third-place play-off against Japan Pearls, 39-0, to finish fourth.

Both sides breezed through cup quarterfinal hurdles, each posting 43-0 wins, as the women marched past eventual Plate champions Panthera Ladies and the men beat Wipers Tsunami.

It was a team-wide effort for the men, who played the tournament effectively with only ten players after Max Denmark and Kane Boucaut were rested following early injuries yesterday.

Head coach Paul John was pleased with his side after the final saying, “It’s been the most positive tournament we have had here, for sure, and the most competitive we have ever been here. There was hardly anything in that final and we won the earlier games really well against two good sides with a lot of internationals.

“We’re pleased with the way the boys are progressing and working hard for each other. Disappointed, of course, that we didn’t win, because that is the competitive element - we want to win tournaments, but effort-wise we couldn’t have done any more and I’m really pleased with them all.”

The men breezed past Sabah Eagles, 24-0, in the semis with Mak picking up his fourth try and Raef Morrison leading all scorers with a brace to set up a cup clash against the hosts’ top team, Borneo Eagles, with its traditional complement of aspiring and former Fiji and New Zealand sevens players.

It was an exciting finale with five lead changes as Hong Kong came back from 5-0, and 12-7 deficits in the first half to lead 14-12 at the break. Captain Max Woodward gave Hong Kong its first advantage after three minutes with pivot Russell Webb adding the conversion as the visitors lead 7-5 after three minutes.

A dangerous Eagles backline combined well to set up a second long range try as they edged back ahead, 12-7, as the half-time hooter sounded. The referee allowed a last play and Hong Kong – helped along by repeated penalties for infringing by the Eagles, marched down for a 5m lineout.  

A heady play from Raef Morrison saw him take the ball well before selling a perfect dummy to the scrumhalf and rounding his defensive marker to lunge over the line. Webb nailed a tight conversion from the left touchline to put Hong Kong ahead 14-12 at the break.

The score stayed that way for most of the final half, with a fascinating battle between Hong Kong’s structured defence and an increasingly wild Eagles’ attack ensuing.  The hosts threw the ball around with abandon chasing a third breakaway and it came midway through the half as their rangy Fijian winger found space for his second 50-metre try of the final.

Hong Kong had several chances down the stretch, but fell afoul of the ref with Jamie Hood sent to the bin shortly after play resumed. Fatigued from the cumulative effort, Hong Kong committed a few unforced errors late and Borneo played it safe for the first time as they kicked the ball into touch to end the game.

The tournament has put Hong Kong in good stead for the men’s series qualifier at the Cathay Pacific/HSBC Hong Kong Sevens, said John: “The boys should have confidence in how they played. The ten boys who played here really put their hands up. We have a competitive week now when we go back in finalising the squad, but these boys set the standard here and it was a high standard, so I’m pleased.”

The women were beaten 43-7 in the semi final by eventual cup winners Nagato Blue Angels, a Japanese specialist sevens side laden with talent from New Zealand, Australia and the Cook Islands. Struggling to establish possession, Hong Kong trailed 36-0 early in the half, but an improved second half effort held the Blue Angels to a single score, with Vivian Poon scoring and converting her own try late in consolation.

That set up the bronze medal rematch against Japan Pearls who beat Hong Kong in the pool. It was a similar result today with the Pearls’ own contingent of Kiwis again influential in a 39-0 victory.

Coach Iain Monaghan relished the outing given the talent level in this year’s field, which has risen significantly: “We came up against two very good Japanese clubs with a lot of internationals, and the intensity in those games was a good lesson for us.

“That is the level we are aspiring to play at, and the intensity in those games stretched and exposed us a wee bit, but it also showed us areas we have improved on. We can take a lot from that into next month.

“We need a bit more composure and a bit higher work rate in pressure situations to create space for ourselves, and we need to communicate more to get on the same page in those pressure situations.”

Composure was perhaps a natural focus with Monaghan giving his teenage tyros a lot of game time, particularly backs Jess Eden and Amy Pyle.

“It gave those young 18, 19 year old girls a huge experience to learn from. They were outstanding in their attitude and effort throughout the weekend and at times really showed their potential. They can only be better for this experience. The girls coming back from injury also got a good workout as well, and I’m sure there will be some sore bodies tomorrow.”

For Monaghan it was an ideal build-up for the women’s series qualifier in early April, and the coach plans to keep the pressure on with hit-outs against he HK U20s men’s sevens squad in the week ahead and with warm-up games against Scotland in the days leading up to the qualifier (4-5 April).

“The girls are disappointed but still positive. We are miles ahead of where we were in January, and I reminded them that we are only six weeks into what is really a 20-week block of training for us leading up to the Olympic qualifiers in November, so it’s a very exciting time,” Monaghan added.