Hong Kong advance to Cup quarters as Asian Games hopes fade
Hong Kong's presence in the sevens competition at the Asian Games in Doha next year looks highly unlikely with the news that the selection criteria could be based on performances at the last games fours years ago in Pusan, South Korea.
On that occasion, Hong Kong finished bottom of the eight team competition, which is not good enough if the IRB uses the results to pick which seven teams should play in Doha - the eighth spot will be given to hosts Qatar.
'The IRB might make its decision on the results from the last Asian Games and this is not good news for Hong Kong,' said Jamie Scott, the Hong Kong-based secretary-general of the Asian Rugby Football Union who is a guest at the Singer-SriLankan Airlines Sevens. This 12-team tournament was supposed to be the qualifying competition for Doha, but the IRB moved the goalposts at the last minute perplexing Doha organisers as well as Asian officials.
'We don't know why the IRB decided not to use this event as a qualifying competition. It was supposed to be one. Now we hear that the IRB could just nominate the teams for Doha,' said George Hore, Qatar's Olympic committee's director of rugby.
Scott's bombshell will blow Hong Kong's hopes out of the water. And on a waterlogged pitch at the Nittawela Stadium yesterday, Hong Kong barely managed to keep their hopes alive after scraping through to a 10-5 win over Malaysia which put them in the Cup competition today.
With two teams from each group advancing to the Cup, Hong Kong, who were second behind China in the pool matches, will now play Japan in the Cup quarter-finals. If they lose, a likely case, they will then be in the Plate semi-finals.
'We achieved our objectives today. The goal was to beat Malaysia and the players did that. There were seven guys out there today who were wearing a Hong Kong jersey for the first time and I'm pleased with the way they played,' said coach Ivan Torpey.
A last-gasp try by Li Chi-ying gave Hong Kong a narrow victory over Malaysia. Hong Kong led 5-0 at half-time thanks to a try by Liu Kwok-leung. But Malaysia levelled soon after the break before Li scored the match-winner.
Skipper Alex Gibbs, playing in the sweeper role, and forward Ryan McBride had huge games. Gibbs pulled off a couple of try-saving tackles that saved the day for Hong Kong. But the SAR were blown away by China who romped to a 40-0 victory. Winger Li Yang scored a hat-trick and Johnny Zhang Zhiqiang added a brace as China made light of the treacherous conditions underfoot to sweep to victory.
Despite not being an Asian Games qualifier, Hong Kong fielded players who are only eligible to play at the Asian Games. Hence the seven new faces - Li, Lo Kwok-wai, Tsang Hing-hung, McBride, Jeff Wong, Lai Yiu-pang and Mark Wright. Only skipper Gibbs, Rowan Varty and Liu Kwok-leung have represented Hong Kong at the senior level before.
Torpey is hoping the tournament will give the newcomers the experience as Hong Kong look to next December's Asian Games - that is if the IRB picks Hong Kong. That now seems doubtful. 'We wanted to have a 12 team competition at the Asian Games but Qatar refused to accommodate those wishes. It does not look good for Hong Kong,' said Scott.