Gold-medal dream dies after nightmare ending
The dejected faces of the Hong Kong men's team said it all after a historic gold medal was snatched from their grasp with only five seconds to play as Japan scored a try for a 26-24 win.
The party mood at Hong Kong Stadium turned sour as the long-cherished dream that rugby would be the first team sport to win a gold medal for Hong Kong at a multi-sports event was shattered.
'We are absolutely gutted,' stand-in Hong Kong skipper Mark Wright said. 'We thought we had done enough to win but it wasn't to be.'
International Olympic Committee president Dr Jacques Rogge was among the 11,000-strong crowd who watched Japan's Masahiro Tsuiki plant the try that broke Hong Kong hearts. After taking the lead for the first time in the final, 24-19, Hong Kong's aim was to run down the clock. But with two minutes and 20 seconds left it was a huge task.
The hosts could have sealed it when Wright broke free, but somehow the Japanese defence held him up 10 metres from their try line.
The next thing a stunned partisan crowd knew was play had swept downfield and it was Hong Kong who were defending. Rowan Varty, who had been superb all day with his sterling defence, tried valiantly to pull off one more try-saving tackle. But it was not to be. Tsuiki skipped through to score.
'We should have won that,' Hong Kong head coach Dai Rees said. 'It came down to a couple of mistakes, and it wasn't from our players.'
Rees was referring to poor refereeing decisions that he said swung the tide in the favour of Asian champions Japan. Both resulted in tries, the second contributing to the match-winning points.
'In the dying seconds, the ball was turned over and a penalty given against us through no fault of our players,' Rees said. 'I always said the contact areas would be crucial and needed to be policed well.'
It might sound like sour grapes, but Hong Kong did not deserve to lose, especially after having been under huge pressure all day. They needed to win both of their remaining group games to enter the gold-medal final.
South Korea were taken care of first, 21-19, thanks to a three-try, first-half blitz from Keith Robertson, Adam Raby and Fan Shun-kei. But it was Simon Leung Ho-yam who ensured the win with a try-saving tackle, holding up a Korean player over the line. Next up were China. Here, too, Hong Kong scored three first-half tries through Robertson, Anthony Haynes and Fan. Varty's tackling kept China at bay, winning 21-9.
Varty scored twice and Raby once in the final as Hong Kong stayed with Japan all the way. Haynes then scored an intercept try to give Hong Kong the lead at 24-19. But they could not hold on to it.
In the women's competition, Hong Kong skipper Royce Chan Leong-sze scored two tries to lead her team to the bronze medal. China took gold, beating Japan 34-12.