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Asia Rugby Sevens Series

More Japan heartbreak for Hong Kong in Asian Series but Paul John’s side ‘on track’ for World Cup berth

Hosts fall agonisingly short in the final despite Toby Fenn’s heroic two-try effort in 19-12 loss

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 02 September, 2017, 8:30pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 02 September, 2017, 11:01pm

Hong Kong are “on track” for a berth in next year’s Rugby World Cup Sevens and the World Series qualifier despite another heartbreaking loss to Japan in the Asia Rugby Sevens Series.

Hong Kong went down 19-12 in the final of the first round of the series at King’s Park, with Japan’s Siosifa Lisala streaking away for the winning try as the siren sounded.

It left Hong Kong to ponder another close loss to their Asian nemesis, who were relegated from the World Series in May, but by making the final they’re one step closer to the top-two finish they need to reach both tournaments.

“We have got to qualify for Hong Kong and the World Cup and at the moment we’re on track,” coach Paul John said.

“We got really close to Japan and that was virtually their [World Series] team. We have got to take heart from that and believe in ourselves a little bit more.

“That’s the starting point for us now and we have got to build on that, we can’t be content and we have got to aim to get to the final again in Korea [in three weeks].”

A Japan side with Asia as their top priority is always going to be a handful for Hong Kong and so it proved, with John’s men struggling with the size of their opponents at times.

With Jamie Hood (head knock) and Mark Wright (knee) unable to take part in the final due to injury, Hong Kong jumped out of the blocks and led 5-0 after an early Toby Fenn try.

The hosts faltered to trail 12-5 at the break, but Fenn struck again to drag his side back into the contest, with Ben Rimene slotting the conversion to level the scores.

However, as they have done so often before, a Japan side featuring the likes of World Series veteran Katsuyuki Sakai had the last laugh.

“I can’t fault the boys, I think they’ve been excellent and nobody expected us to get that close,” John said about a young side that exceeded even their own expectations by reaching the final despite having four players on debut and the inexperienced Hugo Stiles back in the mix.

“There’s a lot of boys carrying niggles, as is always the case, and we lost Jamie for the final which was disappointing.

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“Toby’s had a good two days, he does the simple things well and is effective. He’s good over the ball and is abrasive.”

Hong Kong’s path to the final started with a 50-0 quarter-final romp over Taiwan, with day one star Seb Brien and Kane Boucaut both landing doubles.

In the semi-final against South Korea, Hong Kong bolted to a 19-0 lead through two tries to Jack Neville and one to Hood but were forced to hang on for dear life as their gallant opponents came storming back.

South Korea got within two points late in the game and were not without their chances to grab the lead, with a Rimene penalty at the death guaranteeing Hong Kong’s passage.

World Cup berth on the line as Paul John takes new-look Hong Kong side into Asia Rugby Sevens Series

“The pleasing thing for us in this tournament is there wasn’t that many fluctuations, it was all pretty consistent and we got better as the weekend went on,” John said.

South Korea completed the podium, holding off the improving China 14-7 in the play-off for third spot.