HK seal Doha trip in style
'We have earned our place at the Asian Games. The guys really played well and it was a great effort'
Doha, here we come! Alex Gibbs and his band of merry men can proudly look forward to taking part in the Asian Games in December after the SAR won the qualifying sevens tournament in sweeping style at the Hong Kong Football Club last night.
Hong Kong have taken part in the sevens competition at previous Asian Games. But this was the first time that they had to qualify for it. And they did it in fine fashion, scoring 134 points and conceding just two tries as they defeated Singapore, Kazakhstan and Malaysia to book the solitary ticket to the Doha Games.
'We have earned our place at the Asian Games. The guys really played well and it was a great effort from the entire squad. I just can't wait to get back into training for Doha now,' smiled thrilled Hong Kong captain Gibbs afterwards.
Hong Kong will join South Korea, Japan, Taiwan, China, Sri Lanka, Thailand and hosts Qatar in the eight-team competition at the Asian Games from December 1-15. The rest of the sides earned automatic berths.
Hong Kong had to do it the hard way - by going out and beating Singapore 29-0, Kazakhstan 31-0 and Malaysia 24-0 in the round robin competition. They then met Malaysia once more in the final and romped to a massive 50-14 victory.
The first 10 minutes of the final was one of the best performances seen from a Hong Kong team in recent years. They did not put a foot wrong, nor did a pass go astray as they played seamless and faultless rugby to score six tries and leave their opponents shell-shocked.
'Everything we had done in training came together in that first half,' explained Gibbs. 'We didn't take the foot off the pedal and it was a shame that we had to have a minute's break at half-time. We could have just kept going on and on.'
Mark Wright, who had an outstanding tournament, was the top try-scorer of the tournament, collecting six tries including two in the final. Playing with stitches in his head, from an injury picked up during the group match against Malaysia, Wright was virtually unstoppable with his surging runs creating all sorts of problems for opponents.
Fellow forward Kwok Ka-chun matched Wright in the ball-winning department and was a tower of strength at the breakdown. The DeA Tigers loose forward showed he can become an invaluable asset for Hong Kong in the future, and his dominating presence yesterday ensured Hong Kong an abundant supply of possession.
And that ball was put to good use by Hong Kong's backs led admirably by halfback Jeff Wong whose opportunism and vision created space for the rest of his teammates. Ricky Cheuk and Kenzo Pannell looked razor sharp, while Gibbs was as solid as ever.
'This is the future face of Hong Kong rugby. We have unearthed a lot of home-grown talent and I can say now that a lot of these guys will be pushing for a place for the Hong Kong Sevens,' said Hong Kong sevens coach Rodney McIntosh.
It was heartening to watch players like Andy Yuen, Tsang Hing-hung, Fan Shu-kei, Chan Yiu-yu put their hands up and be counted. They not only clamoured for attention, they wanted to bask in the limelight.
While Hong Kong scored 22 tries yesterday, it was their defence that gave them the platform for victory. The opposition would have found it easier to break into Disneyland than trying to breach the tight defensive wall put up by Hong Kong.
To finish the preliminary round without conceding a try was highly commendable. Even the big Kazakhstan forwards found it hard-going against Hong Kong who tackled their hearts out.
'The feature of our game was our strong defensive system. We closed down space quickly. The emphasis was on defence,' McIntosh pointed out.
So tight-fisted was Hong Kong's defence that it was only after three and-a-half games, that the opposition was able to score a try, with Malaysia scoring two soft tries. But by then, the SAR had already booked their ticket to Doha.