Agony again for Hong Kong’s men’s sevens team as Japan win Olympics qualifier 24-10
Hosts take a 10-0 lead at raucous Hong Kong Stadium, but second-half comeback sees perennial nemesis beat them once more
Hong Kong missed out on direct qualification to the Olympics rugby sevens tournament after another agonising defeat to perennial nemesis Japan.
The hosts took a 10-0 half-time lead in the final after a superb opening 10 minutes, Alexander McQueen and Max Woodward scoring.
But Japan, who had looked unbeatable all weekend, hit back after the break, running in five tries as they capitalised on every Hong Kong mistake.
It's the latest in a string of painful defeats for Hong Kong in major finals against Japan, who secured qualification for the Rio Olympics, when rugby returns after 100 years out.
Meanwhile, Hong Kong's women finished third with a hard-fought win over China in the two-leg women's tournament.
They have a very slim chance of still qualifying, if they win all their games in the second leg in Tokyo, but it's more likely they will also be going to the repechage tournament.
Some reaction from disappointed Hong Kong. That's it from us for the weekend, thanks to everyone who tuned in and well done Japan.
Hong Kong coach Gareth Baber:
“We’ll hurt for a few days and then we’ll realise we have to learn from it.
“Obviously when you’re in your home town the emotion is around and you’ve got to temper that a little bit. I was really proud of what they did in the first half. They were brave, they took risks but they look after each other as well.
“Japan obviously regrouped at halftime. They upped the intensity. They challenged. They came off their line quickly and we were just a bit lacking in a couple of areas, there were turnovers and they scored. And in 20 minutes playing sevens it’s as quick as that. They showed their class
Hong Kong captain Max Woodward:
“To go from 10-nil up to lose the game is tough but that's sevens, you've got to take it on the chin and go on to the next one.
"I’m so proud of the lads. The way we came out showed we’re on a par with them.
"There were a few errors. They scored off our turnovers and that’s the level we need to be at.”
Bah humbug. It's the hope that kills ye. Great first half from Hong Kong had Japan looking bewildered, but they were a different team in the second.
Must have been a familiar sinking feeling for Hong Kong's players as Japan edged ahead, they've done it to us so many times.
Still, there's always the repechage tournament eh? Though we probably have no chance there, with good teams from Europe, South America, and Africa ... I'll try to update with a bit of reaction shortly then that'll be it.
24-10 Try Japan Damn it. Another error pounced on by Japan as a ball goes loose at a ruck and Katsuyki Sahai snaffles it and steams away. Agony for Hong Kong against Japan once again. Great second half from Japan.
17-10 Try Japan That might be it. Hong Kong spill a pass and Japan are away like lightning, Lote Tuqiri offloading behind his back to set up Kazuhiro Goya. 90 seconds left - is the dream over?
12-10 Try Japan - Aaargh. Japan should have scored but Max Woodward did just enough to prevent them - after watching the TV replay, the referee gives a penalty for some reason. Japan take it quickly and Lemeki Lomano flies under the posts. Three minutes left, two-point game
5-10 Try Japan - Hong Kong lose Mark Wright to a shoulder injury and Japan hit back through Teruya Goto after he sidesteps the hitherto excellent Rowan Varty
HT: Japan 0 Hong Kong 10
0-10 TRY HONG KONG!!! Blimey! Some more excellent play from Hong Kong almost turns to ashes when a pass is nearly intercepted - but instead it falls to Max Woodward, who drives over into the right-hand corner.
Just over 1 minute left in the half - it's been all Hong Kong so far. Japan, dare I say it, look rattled for the first time in the tournament
0-5 TRY HONG KONG! First blood to the hosts! Huge cheers as Alexander McQueen scores in the left corner, following a penalty on Japan's 20-metre and a swift exchange of passes. Beautiful! That's the first points Japan have conceded all weekend.
A moment's silence for Beth Coalter, who died suddenly recently. She was one of the key figures who made the Hong Kong Sevens what it is today.
Interesting to see if the rugby crowd boo the China national anthem as Hong Kong soccer fans have recently ... seemed to be impeccably observed.
Massive chants of HONG KONG around the stadium as we kick off. Great atmosphere.
Hong Kong team for their final: Wright, Woodward, A McQueen, Maize, Varty, Hood, T McQueen
FT: Japan 22 Kazakhstan 0
Er ... not a lot happened in that second half to be honest. Finally - after Kazakhstan are again reduced to 6 - Yamaguchi scores her second, another great jinking run from the halfway line. That's it.
So Japan win this leg - but there's still another competition to go, in Tokyo at the end of the month, before they can confirm Olympic qualification. Kazakhstan, China, and Hong Kong playing catch-up there, with the 2nd to 4th-place teams going to a final repechage tournament where one more place is up for grabs. Crystal clear?
HT: Japan 17 Kazakhstan 0
After the national anthems, it's first blood to Japan, Mifuyu Koide diving over after a pass from Ano Kuwai. All Japan early on. Scarppy stuff from both teams, but Kazakhstan have a woman sinbinned with just over two minutets left and Chiharu Nakamura dives from a ruck on the five-metre line. All the support is for Japan here, who have a sizable contingent of fans on the halfway line. Huge cheers as Japan score their third, a flowing move releasing Marie Yamaguchi to sprint over from 40 metres out as the hooter sounds. That should be that.
Victory for South Korea in the third place playoff, 26-19, despite a late comeback from Sri Lanka. Two games left - the finals
China won the plate and finished 5th by beating Malaysia 38-5. Fairly meaningless though. Meanwhile, we wait for Sri Lanka and South Korea to wrap up the third-place playoff before the main event, women's and men's finals. 15 minutes away - will Japan win both or can Kazakhstan and Hong Kong upset them?
A little lull in proceedings as we wrap up the remaining also-ran games. Philippines have just beaten Singapore 24-12 to finish 7th. Up next it's China v Malaysia in the men's plate final
Hong Kong women's coach Anna Richards was delighted with her team's performance and said how thrilled the team were to play at Hong Kong Stadium for the first time and lap up the adulation of the crowd. Could be a huge boost for women's rugby in Hong Kong, she feels. And she also calls on the Hong Kong Sevens to give the women more games at the stadium at the city's flagship sevens event.
Brilliant fun that, as Hong Kong's women seal third place and line up for a well-deserved bow. The crowd are still cheering minutes after the end as they walk down the touchline
Hong Kong v China - 3rd place playoff
FT: Hong Kong 12 China 7
Nip and tuck for most of the second half, with Hong Kong enjoying territory but not creating chances. China look set to score but a brilliant tackle from the tiny Chong Ka-yan - just 50kg - saves the day. From the breakdown, Hong Kong get the ball to Aggie Poon on their 20-metre line and she's away. China give up the chase as she crosses halfway, and she can stroll under the posts, letting the clock run down. Five points in it with a minute left. China look threatening as the hooter goes, but a penalty means HK can boot it out for the win. Great game
HT: Hong Kong 5 China 7
Great atmosphere here now. Hong Kong off the mark first, Natasha Olson-Thorne smashing through four or five players. The ball comes out to Aggie Poon on the left and she dummies a pass and goes over for another try this weekend. Top scorer. Lu Yuanyuan pulls one back from a quickly taken tap kick by China though, and the conversion edges them ahead. Then some comedy ensues as China decide to play on while the referee is consulting her assistant about a mid-air tackle. HK think they've scored but of course play is not active. Chinese player escapes a yellow card to big boos from the crowd.
Sri Lanka lost to Guam by the way, 21-5 for the sake of completeness.
Iran are officially the last-placed team in the competition after losing the 9th/10th playoff 22-5 to Taiwan. Thanks for coming boys. Hong Kong's women are back on soon against China in the bronze medal match (4.16pm)
FT: South Korea 10 Hong Kong 19
All Hong Kong for the rest of the half but no more chances. The hooter sounds to huge cheers and Hong Kong are one win away from the Olympics! Unfortunately that one win has to be against Japan, who mullered South Korea 47-0, but we live in hope. The final's at 1820
10-19 TRY HONG KONG! Tom McQueen unlucky not to score a second after a great cross field kick from his brother Alex. But they get a scrum on the five metre and after three or four phases Max Woodward bulls his way over the line. Brilliant conversion for the extra margin with 3 minutes left
10-14 Try Korea. Oh dear, Mark Wright's been sin-binned as second half kicks off, for dissent I think. South Korea immediately make their extra man count
HT: South Korea 5 Hong Kong 14
5-14 TRY HONG KONG! Hong Kong work into South Korea's territory through several phases and get the ball to Tom McQueen in the middle and he surges past a couple of tackles to give the hosts a decent lead as the half-time buzzer sounds
5-7 Try Korea. Hong Kong put themselves under pressure after a missed tackle from Alex McQueen. After several phases of pressure and last-dtich tackling, Jang Jeongmin goes over in the left corner. Referee gives it after lengthy consultation over whether he grounded the ball
0-7 TRY HONG KONG! HK camped on Korea's 20-metre line from kick off, and finally the pressure tells through Chris Maize, knees-up and under the posts. Perfect start
Japan are in the final with an aggregate score of 228-0, averaging 45.6 points per game. Can South Korea or Hong Kong possibly stop them in the final?
FT: Japan 43 Sri Lanka 0
Sri Lanka actualy get into Japan's half, on a long kick-and-chase, but are swiftly disabused of the notion that they might score. Another fast flowing move sends Katsuyuki Sakai over for try number 5. Nasty-looking injury for one of the Sri Lankan players too, just to rub salt in the wound. After a lengthy break to get him stretchered off, Japan set about stretching their lead some more, paceman Matsui sealing his hattrick with another sprint down the wing. Goya gets his second with a burst down the left.
HT: Japan 24 Sri Lanka 0
Japan don't waste any time getting on the scoresheet, a lightning run from Chihito Matsui getting them on the board almost immediately. Lote Tuqiri quickly adds another, Japan spreading it across Sri Lanka's 20-metre line and the big Pacific Islander simply brushing aside an attempt to stop him. Matsui gets the third as Sri Lanka attempt to string a few passes together and succeed only in giving the ball away easily in a tackle. Time for one more, Kazhuhiro Goya jinking in from close range after Matsui was stopped on the line. Sri Lanka haven't been out of their own half.
Plate semi-final - Singapore 10 Malaysia 31
Decent first-half fight from Singapore but nothing much to shout about in the second. Comfortable for Malaysia. I'll take China to beat them in the final though. Up now it's the main event, with the cup semis. A mauling in store for Sri Lanka, then a tough battle between South Korea and Hong Kong. Two wins from Rio for HK
HK team to play Korea: Wright, Woodward, A McQueen, Maize, Varty, Hood, T McQueen.
Plate semi final - China 26 Philippines 15
China seemed to be cruising into the final but gifted Philippines a couple of tries to make the gap six points with 40 seconds left. A barnstorming run from Zhang Chao set up the clincher for Li Yang though, and China take on Singapore or Malaysia (up next) in the final.
Cup semis - Japan v Sri Lanka, Hong Kong v South Korea - in about 20 minutes' time
Great game between Japan and China, with the Chinese women putting in some brutal tackles. They led for the first half until Japan got one back on the break as the hooter sounded. Chen Keyi with the matchwinning try in the second half, a superb run from deep, 5-12 the final score. China look exhausted after that - which should be good for Hong Kong, who they play in the Plate semi-final.
Time for a break now - back around 2pm
FT: Hong Kong 29 Guam 0
Good play from Lai Pou-fan to set up Stephanie Cuvelier, then Lai gets one herself with a nice run. Aggie Poon bags the third with a sprint from 60metres, comically outpacing Guam's chunky covering player. That should be third in the table for HK, assuming Japan beat China in the next game.
HT: Hong Kong 12 Guam 0
First try for Amelie Seure after constant pressure from the kick off from HK. Good backing from the crowd, perhaps 4000 people here. Then Chong Ka-yan gets her first try of the weekend at the stadium where she used to serve burgers with a nice sidestep. A bit disappointing that HK didn't add a few more, both teams making too many mistakes
Back in action with the final women's pool games. Briefly looked like a shock win for Sri Lanka over Kazakhstan was on the cards, prompting us to get our calculators out trying to figure what Hong Kong would need to do against Guam to reach the final. But Kazakhstan turned it on in the second half and won 31-7. They'play Japan in the final.
Some dire cover band on now massacring Gimme Shelter. The billionaires on the hill above will be loving it, my colleague points out.
Ten folk out on the ridiculous excuse for a new pitch, trying to fill in some of the larger holes. LCSD claims the cost of the pitch was HK$31 million. Somebody saw 'em coming.
Sri Lanka with an impressive 50-5 win over Philippines, racking up the points. Big cheers for the last-second Philippines consolation. They'll play Japan in the other semi-final, where I predict they'll be beaten comfortably, sorry Sri Lankan readers. That's at 2.38pm, followed by HK v Korea
FT: Hong Kong 52 Malaysia 0
Hong Kong's biggest win so far, beating the 46 they put past Iran. Some great moves as they camped in Malaysia's 22 for the whole game. Not much of a test from the opponents, to be fair, but a confidence-booster. Next up for HK is the Cup semi against the second-placed team in group A at 1500. That's South Korea, who will be a much tougher test, but HK should have the quality to beat them
52-0 TRY HK! Time for another, for Jack Capon. Cracking win for HK
43-0 TRY HK! Mark Wright charges through as Malaysia miss another tackle
38-0 TRY HK! Thumping tackle from Yiu Kam-shing close to the line and as Malaysia spills the ball, Yiu collects and dives over
31-0 TRY HK! Another flowing move out to the left, and this time it's Alex McQueen who scores
26-0 TRY HK! Good play from Rowan Varty, bashing through a few tackles, then it gets worked out to the left corner and Tom McQueen gets another
HT: Hong Kong 21 Malaysia 0
21-0 TRY HK! Another good score, HK working it to the right, then McQueen with a great jink and step to score under the posts.
14-0 TRY HK! Brilliant try - first a great run from McQueen through three or four defenders, then excellent work from Max Woodward in the later phase, offloading with defenders hanging off him for Chris Maize to score
7-0 TRY HK! Lovely backwards one-hand offload from Tom McQueen to Jamie Hood, and he charges through the middle, then adds the extras.
Another win for Japan, 34-0 over China, fourth in a row without conceding a point.
Good scrapping from China early in the first half, holding off Japan for much of it before Msaakatsu Hikosaku broke through. A bit of ill discipline then led to a quickly taken tap penalty by Katsuyuki Sakai, strolling through beore China had set themselves. World Cup player Yoshikazu Fujita adds a third under the post with a great run past three. Teruya Goto with a double and Chihito Matsui after the break as Japan took it easy.
South Korea cuff Singapore 38-0. Good second half from the minnows, to be fair, fighting hard and keeping South Korea at bay for most of it. South Korea got hammered by Japan yesterday - don't see too much to fear from them, usually fighting it out with HK to be second-best in Asia.
That probably spells the end of Hong Kong's Olympic dream, even ahead of the women's second qualifying leg in Tokyo at the end of the month. Always going to be a long shot for them.
The men's spot will be decided today however, so we can still dream for a bit longer - although Japan looked nigh-on unbeatable yesterday. Hong Kong's first game is at 11.08am, against Malaysia. I'll just put the kiss of death on it now by saying it should be a routine win
FT: Hong Kong women 12 Kazakhstan 20
HK concede another early try, prolonged pressure finally telling and the powerful Lyudmila Korotkikh making it 5-15. But a great move saw Nam Ka-man go over and the conversion took the gap to 12-15 with 3 minutes to go. A dire kick-off handed the ball straight back to Kazakhstan, though, and Olessya Teryayeva brought the gap back to 8. The diminutive HK team seemed overpowered by he burly Kazakhs, and that's a disappointing defeat. Coach Anna Richards said they needed to win that one
HT: Hong Kong women 5 Kazakhstan 10
Action's underway in the women's competition, and Hong Kong are taking on Kazakhstan. At half-time it's 5-10 to the land of Borat.
An early try for Kazakhstan was a blow, but HK fought back well and levelled through Ivy Kwong. The Kazakhs hit back just before the hooter though, Balzhan Koishybayeva skipping clear after a loose tackle from HK
Earlier, Japan walloped Guam 53-0, and China beat Sri Lanka 47-7.