Varty steals show as Japan net title
Rowan Varty stole the thunder but it was Japan who emerged with the kudos and the silverware as they were crowned inaugural HSBC Asian Five Nations champions at the Big Swan Stadium in Niigata yesterday.
The irrepressible Hong Kong fullback grabbed a superb second-half hat-trick of tries as Japan eased their way to a 75-29 victory to remain undefeated in the five-team elite division with a maximum 24 points from their four games and win the title in its first year.
'We have been working very hard for five weeks so it was important we won today,' said Japan coach John Kirwan. 'Hong Kong fought well. They put us under more pressure than the other teams as the scoreboard shows. It felt like a real test match.'
But despite Hong Kong's brave defensive effort, Japan were too powerful, too quick and too slick as they ran in 11 tries in a compelling victory which once again highlighted the gulf between them and the rest of Asia.
'We need to have a bit more self-belief if we are to close the gap on Japan. However we can take a lot of positives from our performance today, especially at the opportunities we created,' said Hong Kong coach John Walters.
Japan led 35-6 at the break with Justin Temara's two penalties the only answer from Hong Kong. But Varty exploded into action in the second half, being on hand to clinically finish three moves - two of them opportunistic - and earn himself the honour of becoming the first Hong Kong player to score a hat-trick against Japan.
Varty, Hong Kong's Player-of-the-Year this season, got his name on the board just after the break when he finished off a superb break by the outstanding Simon Hempel, who caught the Japanese defence by surprise with a nicely angled run before off-loading to Varty.
His second try came on the half-hour, completing an interception by winger Simon Smith, and then he capped it all off right at the end when he was on hand to capitalise on a kick charged down by substitute flyhalf Kenzo Pannell. Although only 22, Varty showed he has a cool head, as he picked up and scored one-handed despite the attentions of two Japanese defenders.
Varty's three tries, plus two penalties and a conversion from Temara and two more penalties from Pannell, was just reward for a gutsy effort by Hong Kong who were always under the cosh in front of a crowd of 7,800.
Hong Kong began well holding their hosts scoreless in the first 15 minutes with some spirited defence. It was left to Japan's Kiwi centre Ryan Nicholas to break the deadlock as he threaded through a grubber which outside centre Yuta Imamura latched on to and scored.
It opened the floodgates and as the game wore on, Hong Kong's defence wilted under the constant pressure. Shaun Webb, Go Aruga and Bryce Robbins all grabbed a brace and there were further tries for Takuro Miuchi, Hirotoki Onozawa, Ryu Koliniasi Holani and Koji Shinozuka. Ten of the 11 tries were converted.