Heartbreak as HK women edged out
It was heartache all round for the Hong Kong's women's team who saw their World Cup ticket snatched from their hands by Kazakhstan, who won a tense pool A encounter 10-5.
Hong Kong, who had beaten Singapore 12-5 in their earlier pool game, needed a victory to enter the semi-finals today.
They ignored the fact that they were up against the Asian champions and played with fire, but it was in vain.
'We are gutted. It was so close. It just wasn't our day,' said crushed Hong Kong captain Emma Holland as she led her team off, most of whom were in tears in the knowledge that they wouldn't be going to Dubai next March.
The top three teams in the nine-team women's competition will book their World Cup berths today. Hong Kong would have rated their chances against Japan in the semi-final, but instead it is Kazakhstan who will be running out.
'We knew we had to go all out against Kazakhstan and the girls gave it their best shot but unluckily we didn't quite make it,' said Hong Kong coach Zanio Yong Chi-fung.
Kazakhstan, China and Thailand topped each of the three pools. Japan, by virtue of finishing as the best runner-up, also advanced to the semi-finals and will meet the Kazakhs. The other semi-final will be between China - who easily looked the best side on show - and Thailand. The winners of the semi-finals will qualify while the losers will meet in a third place play-off for the remaining ticket.
'It is disappointing, but the girls should be proud of themselves,' said Ruth Mitchell, a stalwart of women's rugby and director of development with the Hong Kong Rugby Football Union.
A spirited defence held Kazakhstan scoreless for most of the first half before Alfiya Mustafina broke the deadlock with a desperate dive by the left corner flag.
The score remained 5-0 in favour of the visitors, but Hong Kong were gaining in confidence.
It was left to Aggie Poon Pak-yan to lift the home team's spirits and she did it in stunning fashion as she sprinted 70 metres down the left touchline to score the equalising try.
But with 90 seconds remaining, a knock-on resulted in the ball being turned over and Kazakhstan's Olga Kumanikina dealt the killer blow as she shrugged off desperate defenders on her way to the tryline.
Then the last remaining chance to hit back was lost when Hong Kong knocked on the re-start, allowing their opponents to retain the ball and hold on for the narrow win.
'We didn't get enough good ball from the scrums and you can't score without the ball. But our defence kept us in the match - unfortunately that was not enough,' Holland said.
Despite the loss, coach Yong remained upbeat and said the performance bodes well for the future. 'This was not supposed to be a learning curve for this team. Although a number of players are new, or inexperienced, they have the ability to do well. We can only get better.'
Small consolation for Holland and company who will today have to find enough motivation to finish high in the placings for the lesser positions.