Hong Kong beats Japan to win Mumbai Sevens and become top side in Asia
Rees' warriors win Mumbai Sevens to lay past demons to rest and be anointed continental champions for the first time
The ghosts of many sevens finals past were laid to rest as Hong Kong exorcised their demons with a superb 28-7 victory over Japan in yesterday's final of the Mumbai Sevens to be crowned Asian champions for the first time in their history.
An inspirational performance from Tom McQueen, whose three tries in a narrow quarter-final victory over Sri Lanka saved the blushes, allowed Hong Kong to finish the HSBC Asian Sevens Series as the No 1 team in the region. Hong Kong claimed two of the three titles - the Shanghai Sevens last month and yesterday's triumph at the Bombay Gymkhana Club.
"This is really satisfying. We have lost to Japan so many times in crucial encounters in the past and to finally defeat them in a final and finish as Asian champions is sweet," said Hong Kong coach Dai Rees.
Unlike in recent meetings where Hong Kong were reduced to six men - like at this year's Hong Kong Sevens, the 2010 Asian Games gold medal match, as well as this season's Borneo Sevens final - to end on the losing side, the Mumbai team proved they had learned their lessons well and produced a disciplined performance.
The scores were tired 7-7 at half-time with Alex McQueen touching down early. Hong Kong's superior fitness and conditioning, and good use of the five-strong bench - with the International Rugby Board allowing all five substitutes to be used instead of three as in the past - allowed the Rowan Varty-led side to stretch their lead. Three more unanswered tries from the outstanding Jamie Hood, Kwok Ka-chun and Ant Haynes gave Hong Kong the landmark win.
The victory will see Hong Kong qualify for the core-team tournament with the big guns at next year's Cathay Pacific/HSBC Hong Kong Sevens as well as book a ticket to the London Sevens in May. But Rees wants more.
"Strange as it may seem, despite this magnificent performance we have still not achieved our main goal which we set at the outset of this season, which is to qualify for the World Cup Sevens in Moscow next year," Rees said.
But the benefits of being No1 in Asia will mean Hong Kong and Japan will be in different halves of the draw at next month's Asian qualifiers for the World Cup, the last leg of the HSBC Asian Seven Series in Singapore.
Hong Kong had easily looked the best side on the opening day in Mumbai, scoring more than 150 points in three matches while locking out the opposition from their own tryline. But they almost paid the price for taking Sri Lanka too lightly in the quarter-finals, narrowly escaping with a tense 17-12 victory, and Tom McQueen scoring a hat-trick of tries.
"I was lucky to receive the ball in space and just finished it off. They [Sri Lanka] were a good side and they proved to be dangerous. Luckily we did just enough to win," McQueen said.
Rees added: "We almost paid for thinking that it was God's given right that we should beat Sri Lanka. We disrespected them and didn't apply ourselves in that match. It was the perfect wake-up call for us for the rest of the tournament."
Hong Kong went on to hammer Taiwan 49-0 in the semi-finals to march into the final. Japan booked their berth with a 53-0 win over South Korea before knocking out Thailand 48-0 to enter the final. But this time the boot was on the other foot, and at the end, it was Japan down to six men with a player in the sin bin midway through the second half, allowing Hong Kong to hammer home their superiority.
"The timing of this victory cannot be better. We are in the process of applying to become an elite sport at the Sports Institute and this result will boost us as we look ahead to the Olympic qualifiers for Rio 2016," Rees said.
McQueen added: "This victory will boost our confidence. We know now we can beat Japan and looking ahead to the Olympics, we can have high hopes of representing Asia. But before that we have so many other goals to achieve, the number one now being qualification for the World Cup."