Another final, another agonising defeat for Hong Kong in Asian Sevens Series
Old foes Japan again make team pay dearly for mistakes with gut-wrenching, extra-time winner
Japan's new sensation Lomano Lemeki broke Hong Kong hearts for the second successive time at the HSBC Asian Sevens Series when he scored in sudden-death extra-time to give the Brave Blossoms a spine-tingling, 17-12 victory in the Cup final in Thailand yesterday.
Lemeki, who was player of the tournament on his debut in the opening leg in Malaysia earlier this month, once again haunted Hong Kong as he scored the match-winning try, capitalising on a turnover to make it two wins out of two for Japan in the series.
"The pressure is on us now. We have to win the next two remaining legs if we are to retain our Asian crown," said Hong Kong assistant coach Alex Gibbs. "It is a two-horse race between us and Japan and we need to start believing that we can win otherwise we are never going to win these close games."
It was the umpteenth time that Japan have edged Hong Kong in Cup finals, the two most heartbreaking results the 2010 Asian Games gold medal match and the East Asian Games final the year before. They edged Hong Kong 14-10 in the Malaysia final.
Hong Kong had begun well, taking a 12-0 lead at the break with tries from the McQueen brothers - winger Tom touching down for his eighth of the tournament followed by elder brother Alex, who had a superb weekend. But Japan came back strongly in the second half.
"We just dug in deep," said match-winner Lemeki. "In the first half Hong Kong had the ball for eight of the 10 minutes and we knew we had to get our hands on the ball and keep our composure. We went back to basics and it paid off."
The first Japan try from Takashi Suzuki came midway through the second half as Hong Kong defended superbly with youngster Raef Morrison leading the way. That seemed to infuse Japan with confidence and they kept the pressure on the Hong Kong tryline, leading to the equaliser seconds from full-time.
With their tails up, Japan kicked off and Hong Kong won possession but Rowan Varty spilled the ball in a tackle and it was scooped up by the opposition leading to Lemeki picking up from a subsequent ruck to dive over.
"It's heartbreaking to come so close and lose again, but we can take a lot of positives from this tournament especially the fact that we have blooded some younger players," Gibbs said.
Morrison was the pick of the crop. He began every game yesterday as Hong Kong beat Kazakhstan 31-0 in the quarters and South Korea 29-0 in the semis.