Heroic HK bound for World Cup

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 19 March, 2000, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 19 March, 2000, 12:00am

DON'T cry for Hong Kong, Argentina, for they are coming there next January.

Proud Hong Kong held their heads high yesterday after they qualified for the 2001 Rugby World Cup Sevens in Mar Del Plata.

The SAR bravehearts finished in the top three at the 10-team Asian Zone qualifying tournament to book their tickets to the World Cup.

'The team showed a lot of courage. It is a great effort considering the circumstances under which we played,' said elated coach Jim Rowark.

These circumstances included a marathon eight games in two days, the strength-sapping conditions and, most crucially, the fact that Hong Kong were reduced to just nine players yesterday.

Also qualifying were Japan and Taiwan. South Korea gained automatic entry as they finished in the top eight at the last World Cup Sevens in Hong Kong in 1997.

It was an uphill struggle all the way for Hong Kong yesterday with skipper Paul Dingley sidelined due to an injury he picked up in the last preliminary round game against Taiwan on Friday.

'I think I have broken a rib or a cartilage. It is hurting bad,' said Dingley, as he paced the touchlines during Hong Kong's first match against Thailand.

But, despite being handicapped, Hong Kong put on a magnificent performance at the stifling hot Petaling Jaya Stadium where temperatures touched 35 degrees centigrade in the morning as they beat Thailand 31-5 and Singapore 43-0.

Later in the day they defeated Arabian Gulf 24-0 and hosts Malaysia 47-0 to finish unbeaten in the group and thus book their berth to Argentina.

They also entered the Cup final against Japan which the latter won 49-12 in a meaningless encounter.

But by then Hong Kong were already celebrating.

While it was a team effort that won the day, there were several moments of sheer character as the players rose to the occasion.

Mark Solomon's bulldozing runs saw him easily win the player-of-the-day prize for Hong Kong. The big winger showed his versatility, playing a forward's role in the absence of Dingley. He was simply unstoppable and earned his just rewards by scoring eight tries.

Rodney McIntosh, was a scrumhalf extraordinaire. The player-coach was a rock-solid presence, especially in defence. Matt Reede, playing with a slight groin strain, still showed his killer instinct, scoring four tries. Chris Gordon was once again the will-o-wisp, creating space from nothing. Forwards Hamish Bowden and Will Wild won Hong Kong plenty of ball and Alan Clark graduated from the bench to be a revelation.

And subs Jason Going and Chan Fuk-ping did yeoman service giving much-needed breathing space for their teammates.

McIntosh paid tribute to New Zealand coach Gordon Tietjens, who gave the squad a helping hand a fortnight ago, and the Hong Kong Rugby Football Union for having the foresight to invite him.

'Tietjens worked on our fitness and defence and it showed here,' said McIntosh. The statistics prove it. Hong Kong's defence leaked only one try all day.

'We dug deep and it paid. The guys are on a high,' said McIntosh.

Alvin Sallay in Kuala Lumpur