Hong Kong's pool platoon, who played a significant role in the territory's progress to the Plate final, were unable to deliver in the crunch game against Tonga. Riaz Fredericks, Luke Nabaro and speedster Chris Gordon, all Hong Kong-based players, had been pulled from the standby '25th team' pool of players by coach George Simpkin to fill the voids left by injuries to key players from the original squad. The trio added extra bite to the Hong Kong attack as the territory swept past Argentina 26-5 in the quarter-finals and then Scotland 43-7 in the semi-finals.
But despite thunderous support from the crowd, Hong Kong could not build on a 12-0 lead and were eventually beaten 40-19 in the final, a reversal of the mud-bath 1992 final when the territory beat Tonga. Simpkin felt Tonga's fourth try, which took the score to 26-12, proved the killer blow. 'It's harder to come back from 26-12 against a good team like Tonga,' said Simpkin.
'That was the turning point of the game. Earlier, they scored an intercept try when it looked like we would score.
'If we had scored, I think we would have had a chance to win the match.' Simpkin defended the territory's use of the three pool players, who added that extra pace and attacking options to Hong Kong's original squad. They were called in as replacements for Rob Santos, Hamish Bowden and Rodney McIntosh. 'What you must remember is they are all based in Hong Kong,' said Simpkin.
'They play in Hong Kong. We could have easily chosen some of the Fijian players who were in the pool who might have been more effective. 'But we didn't do that, we picked the players who were based in Hong Kong.' Chan Fuk-ping, the first Hong Kong-born Chinese player to play at the Rugby World Cup Sevens, had only a couple of minutes of play in the semi-final against Scotland. But Simpkin is confident that there will be more appearances at the highest level for the 20-year-old Chan, a product of the Hong Kong Rugby Football Union's Education Trust Fund. 'He acquitted himself well and didn't make any mistakes,' said Simpkin of Chan.
'I'm quite happy with him and I think he's got a great future,' Simpkin added. For the first four minutes of the final, it seemed the euphoria of the crowd support and the confidence within the side would see Hong Kong through to the Plate title as Gordon and Isi Tu'ivai scored. But by the end of the half, Tonga led 14-12 with converted tries from Siua Taumalolo and Tevita Tu'ifua.
Sione Moa Latu increased Tonga's lead three minutes into the second half before Tu'ifua took the score to 26-12 in the 16th minute. Further tries from Fero Lasagavibau and Latu made the game safe for Tonga before Fredericks scored a consolation try for Hong Kong in injury time. Tonga reached the final by beating Wales 26-12 in the quarter-finals and then ousting the Cook Islands in the semi-finals with a 43-10 victory. Despite their defeat, it was a more successful venture for Hong Kong than at the first World Cup in Murrayfield four years ago, when the territory were relegated to the Bowl competition.