Hong Kong suffer crushing blow for second year running
World Series dream out of reach against lofty professionals in London
The streets of London were not paved with gold for Hong Kong yesterday when Spain crushed their hopes with a 29-14 victory in the quarter-finals of the core-team qualifying tournament at the London Sevens.
The ghosts of sevens past returned to haunt Hong Kong again as they bowed out early for the second successive year, failing in their bid to grab a core-team berth in the HSBC Sevens World Series. Last year, a six-man Hong Kong were beaten by Japan at this stage.
Spain, using their superior height to the maximum advantage, played smart rugby to deny Hong Kong possession to run to a 19-0 lead at half-time. Skipper Rowan Varty scored the first try after the break to raise hopes of a fightback but Spain quickly dispelled such thoughts by running in a couple of more tries to stretch their lead. Ben Rimene's consolation score at the end was anything but that.
"It is extremely disappointing to fall short again. We couldn't get our hands on the ball in the first half," said Varty.
"We needed a bit of luck to go our way and it didn't happen. I suppose if we had one year on the circuit, we could dictate our own luck."
Varty was perhaps alluding to the International Rugby Board's strange promotion-relegation format, where the three bottom-placed teams in this year's World Series - Scotland, Portugal and Spain - were given the chance to re-qualify right away instead of missing out a year (as true relegation means) and allowing three new teams to gain promotion.
A record one-day sevens crowd of 71,898 fans had turned up on the first day but when Hong Kong ran out early yesterday morning barely a few hundred were inside Twickenham - and it almost seemed as if Hong Kong had failed to turn up, too.
Hong Kong failed to contest the kick-off by Spain and that set the tone for the restarts, too, after each of Spain's first-half tries. Given a free monopoly on possession, Spain - who had made seven changes to the team who were relegated at the end of the Glasgow Sevens a fortnight ago - dominated easily.
"We struggled to match their physical stature," said Hong Kong head coach Dai Rees. "If we'd come up against a side like Scotland [whom Hong Kong beat on the opening day] we might have won. But we couldn't get our hands on the ball."
Hong Kong's failure to contest the restarts gave Spain's full-time players contracted to play sevens total control of possession, which they used well to score five tries, and never looked in danger of losing the crucial quarter-final.
This left Hong Kong, despite a 2-2 record in their first appearance at the London Sevens, with another disappointing end to what they had hoped would have been another first - becoming the first Asian team to play full-time on the circuit.
"But I'm proud of the boys," Rees added. "They have kept us at the top table and showed we can be competitive with the world's best. They have kept us in an unrealistic position in world rugby considering our small player base and the fact that we are not a side of big athletes. They raised expectations but sadly we couldn't quite do what we came to do.
"Our focus must be in Asia. Our main goal has to be winning a medal at the Asian Games next year and qualifying for the Rio Olympics. On top of that, we have the China National Games and World Games this year.
"We have come a long way and the fact that we were playing for the first time at the London Sevens and trying to win a core-team berth says a lot."