Hong Kong belong with the big boys, says proud coach Rees
Hong Kong fall to England in final, but exceed expectations and prove credibility with wins over Argentina and USA
They booed England for the first time at Hong Kong Stadium, but it wasn't enough to lift giantkillers Hong Kong, whose wishes had already come true, up the magic stalk.
When the draw was done a couple of months ago, Hong Kong said they wanted to finish in the top 12 or be playing in a final on the Sunday of the Sevens. It might have been wishful thinking, yet the Asian champions realised both their objectives in stunning fashion by storming into the Bowl final against England - stamping their credentials as a worthy core team for next season.
Two amazing wins over Argentina (7-5) and the United States (20-12) - two powers on the American continents - paved the way for Hong Kong's first appearance in a final in the world series. The final was a bridge too far as England won 42-5, but it didn't matter as Hong Kong were celebrating.
"This has exceeded all our expectations," said proud Hong Kong coach Dai Rees.
Argentina entered this tournament ranked seventh in the world, while the US were 13th. Hong Kong were not even on the radar, this being their first world series experience this season. They proved to 40,000 fans they deserved their place among the big boys.The sport is on the verge of being admitted into the Hong Kong Sports Institute and government officials who hold the purse-strings - Chief Executive Leung Chun-yan was in the VIP stands - would have realised Rowan Varty and his team must be taken seriously.
"We always maintained it was all about Sunday and today the guys proved they can hold their own at the top level," said Rees. "People questioned our credibility after the first two days, here is the answer."
You can't argue. Hong Kong finished tenth in the 16-team core competition. They got seven points too, more than heavyweights like South Africa, France and Scotland.
"Getting into the Bowl final is the best performance in my career," said Varty, the longest-standing player in the team with seven appearances.
And he had a personal landmark too, scoring the only try."No one had faith in us after the way we played on the first two days, but we believed we could do it," the skipper said.
It all started with a nerve-wracking win over Argentina where winger Salom Yiu Kam-shing scored the try out wide to level the scores, leaving it to Jamie Hood to clinch the victory with a superb conversion. That was followed by the beating of the Tom-Tom-Toms against the US.
Tom McQueen grabbed a hat-trick and Kwok Ka-chun the fourth . and, urged on by the crowd, held on for a famous victory.
At the start of the day, Hong Kong would have settled for playing in the Shield competition and it seemed they were resigned to that fate with three of their best players all weekend - McQueen brothers (Tom and Alex) and Eni Gesinde - on the bench against Argentina. But it didn't matter as Cado Lee Ka-to, Nick Hewson and Yiu stepped up to the plate.
The belief soon started to flow into Hong Kong as Argentina could only manage a slender 5-0 lead at the break. That soon turned into conviction as a tough defence harried the South Americans into mistakes and when Yiu scored, an improbable outcome became a reality.
In the end, it turned out the missing trio were suffering from a stomach bug. In Tom McQueen's case, it turned out to be a super-bug as he almost one-handedly, crushed the Americans in the semi-final.
England were a different kettle of fish. And even though they didn't want to be playing for the minor spoils, put in an electric performance.
"It wasn't about winning a Bowl or a Plate for us, it was about personal pride in our performance," said England coach Ben Ryan. "Consistency is the magic watchword in sevens and we sadly didn't show that on the first two days.'
And was he surprised to see Hong Kong in the Bowl final? "They played with a huge amount of heart to get to the final. Nothing surprises me in the world series."