Hong Kong reach Rugby World Cup Sevens despite Singapore final loss
A top-three finish in Singapore ensures qualification for the World Cup after city suffers a narrow loss to Japan in the final
To Russia with love - that's where Hong Kong are heading after they qualified for next year's Rugby World Cup Sevens by finishing in the top three in the fourth and final leg of the HSBC Asian Sevens Series.
The main mission was accomplished, but still Hong Kong can be forgiven for feeling let down yesterday at the Singapore Sevens after arch-rivals Japan pipped them 14-12 in a nail-biting Cup final, sending a reminder that despite losing their Asian crown, the Japanese are still a threat.
Japan, Hong Kong and third-placed Philippines will represent Asia in Moscow in June.
As far as Japan were concerned, the run-up to yesterday's crunch game, witnessed by International Rugby Board chairman Bernard Lapasset, was all about avenging the forfeiture of their title of Asian sevens champions to Hong Kong, who claimed it by winning two of the three previous legs of the series.
This last leg was all about World Cup qualification but Japan coach Tomohiro Segawa had stated beforehand he not only wanted to qualify for Moscow but also to "do it in style" by beating Hong Kong in the final.
He got his wish as Hong Kong failed to score from the last move of the game - substitute scrumhalf Cado Lee taking a tap penalty responded to a wrong call and chose to run the short side instead of swinging the ball out wide to his right, where with acres of space and a one-man advantage - Japan had lost a player to the sin-bin at the death - stood five of his teammates.
Lee was indecisive and he was nailed by the Japan defence, who bundled him into touch to spark celebrations on their bench because the clock had run down.
"We did what we came to do - qualify for the World Cup. But this game again showed how close both teams are and it was going to turn on one play, a mistake, and we called the wrong move," said Hong Kong head coach Dai Rees.
Hong Kong and Japan have shared the spoils this season. Japan won in Borneo and Singapore, while Hong Kong grabbed the Shanghai and Mumbai legs - the latter tournament being the one that really mattered for it earned Hong Kong the No 1 position in Asia. It also earned the side a place in the top-16, core-team competition at the Hong Kong Sevens as well as a ticket to the London Sevens next year.
"Yes, we lost today, but we are still Asian champions, we are still going to London, we will be playing with the big boys at the Hong Kong Sevens and now we are going to Moscow for the World Cup, too," Rees said.
Hong Kong led 12-0 at half-time - tries from Lee Jones and the outstanding Jamie Hood - after stout defence had kept Japan at bay in the first half.
The Japanese only managed to breach the Hong Kong try-line midway through the 10-minute second-half to cut the deficit to 12-5. Hong Kong were hit with a further blow when Ant Haynes was sin-binned after being judged to have deliberately knocked the ball down. This man advantage allowed Japan to sneak in a try near the corner flag and despite the terrible conditions underfoot from a massive downpour, the try was converted, giving Japan a 14-12 lead.
Hong Kong had earlier hammered South Korea 45-0 in the semi-finals to ensure their World Cup ticket. Japan were given a harder time, struggling to defeat the Philippines 17-7 in the other semi-final. The Philippines defeated South Korea 22-19 in the third-place play-off.