Celebrations as HK book World Cup spot
Final defeat to Japan can't spoil excitement of making Dubai
It's not quite One Thousand and One Nights away, but Hong Kong will be embarking on their own Arabian Nights adventure after they booked their berth for the 2009 World Cup Sevens in Dubai yesterday.
A magical display of pace, power and raw commitment gave Hong Kong a 26-0 victory over Taiwan in the crunch semi-final, and ensured they would be living their fairy tale at the brand new 'The Sevens' stadium built on the outskirts of Dubai City, from March 5-7.
'It is awesome that we will be going to the World Cup. We have been training and preparing for this moment for the past three months and it is a massive relief to finally achieve our goal,' said elated Hong Kong captain Andrew Chambers.
Joining Hong Kong as Asia's representatives for the fifth World Cup Sevens will be Japan who defeated China 24-0 in the other semi-final. The Arabian Gulf will also figure in the 24-team men's tournament gaining an automatic berth as hosts.
The final result was always going to be academic - the only thing at stake being the World Cup seeding, Asia 1 and Asia 2, and bragging rights - but Hong Kong would still have been disappointed they couldn't quite put the icing on the cake, losing 12-10 to Japan.
Played in sheeting rain at the Football Club, Hong Kong were denied by Mafileo Piei who ran 80 metres to score the match-winning try in the dying seconds.
By qualifying yesterday, Hong Kong will have played in every World Cup since the inaugural tournament back in 1993, at Murrayfield, Scotland.
It is the third time they have qualified - they were automatic entries in 1997 and 2005 when Hong Kong hosted the event - cementing their growing reputation as one of the best sevens sides in the region.
Happy Hong Kong coach Rodney McIntosh now wants more from his young team - to start winning against the bigger teams with more regularity - and says the World Cup will be the perfect place to make a statement to the rest of the world outside Asia.
'It is time for us to turn the corner. It is time for us to start taking the scalps of bigger sides and the World Cup will provide us with that platform,' said McIntosh when asked the significance of the achievement.
Like the legendary Arabian queen Scheherazade, whose 1001 tales kept her king engrossed and happy, McIntosh too obviously wants to spin this particular fairy tale for as long as possible and build on the increasing belief that Hong Kong can be competitive against the world's best.
They showed it this year at the Hong Kong Sevens when they lost to Australia narrowly and held France to a 12-12 draw.
Chambers, who was part of both squads, agrees wholeheartedly with McIntosh on the importance of the 2009 World Cup.
'The tournament will give us the chance to show the International Rugby Board that we are not a joke side. We get the opportunity to prove it to them,' Chambers said.
With such ideas motivating the team, it was hardly a surprise that Hong Kong warded off the Taiwan challenge. The conquerors of South Korea were unable to withstand the physical approach of Hong Kong, whose tireless forwards dominated the breakdowns to set up the four-try victory.
But before those four tries were scored - Alex McQueen grabbing a brace, and Mark Wright and Anthony Haynes one each - the defining moment was provided by Rowan Varty.
He pulled off a brilliant tackle on Taiwan's Wang Kuo-feng, who had intercepted a wayward pass and made a beeline for the right corner flag. Varty felled him after a 55 metre chase, forcing a knock-on. Hong Kong made it count, going into the break 7-0 up when Wright scored from a tap-penalty.
'That tackle was the turning point. If they had scored, we would have been under pressure. In this game, it is all about momentum and when we scored first, we got that momentum,' McIntosh said.
'I can't believe that we will be going to the World Cup. It will be my first World Cup and I'm really excited,' said two-try hero McQueen who was making his sevens debut for Hong Kong.