Hong Kong bow out with bowl semi-final defeat by Ireland
Hong Kong salvaged some pride defeating Italy to break a long winless drought at the World Cup Sevens yesterday. But their campaign ended in the semi-finals of the Bowl, going out 22-15 to Ireland.
By entering the last four in the bottom-tier grouping, Hong Kong can at least boast that they were the best-placed Asian team in the 24-team competition. Japan and the Arabian Gulf, the other two Asian sides, had been knocked out in the Bowl quarters.
But still there would have been some regrets that things could have gone better, and it would have if Hong Kong had a ball-winning forward for the restarts, a problem area which had plagued the side right throughout the tournament.
Asked what Hong Kong needed as they look towards their home tournament later this month, Keith Robertson was quite candid as he identified the worrying issue.
'If we can win some restarts, it would be good. We have got to work on that area,' scrumhalf Robertson said.
It wasn't meant as a criticism on the hard-working forwards - Johnny Gbenda Charles, Mark Wright and Mark Goosen. But the trio were out-jumped and out-classed resulting in Hong Kong having to tackle their hearts out.
This in turn sucked the energy out of the team. There is only so much tackling you can do to keep out the bigger opponents they faced this week. And they don't come any bigger than England, Kenya and Tunisia in the pool games. And then a brawny Ireland in the semis.
'The guys box above their weight,' said coach Rodney McIntosh. 'What a lot of people don't realise is the amount of energy expended in the contact. Most of the opposition has got 10-15kg on our guys and when you are wrestling in that situation, it takes a lot out of you.' Once again, as they had done in every game they had played here, Hong Kong scored first against Ireland when Tom McQueen touched down by the corner flag. He repeated this just before the break for Hong Kong to lead 10-5.
Some sterling defence from Rowan Varty denied Ireland's kick-and-chase methods, but a similar attempt ended in failure with the Irish having two players in the chase. Varty got one, but couldn't nail the other.
That try gave the Irish heart and they added three more in quick succession after the break to go up 22-10. The restarts were a nightmare for Hong Kong with the Irish easily ruling the air and robbing them of possession.
Varty deservingly scored a late consolation try to bring Hong Kong within one score but it was too late.
'It is a big learning curve for the guys. I'm very proud of the guys, they played some of their best sevens in the first seven minutes,' said McIntosh.
'We got the scalp we were after with Italy and finishing as the top Asian team is satisfying,' the coach added.
The relief was clearly plain to see on the players' faces after they had defeated Italy 14-7 in the quarter-final. The stigma of leaving winless - for the third successive World Cup - had been lifted and Hong Kong was understandably pleased.
'We had to leave this World Cup with a win to get some respect back,' said relieved skipper Andrew Chambers.
'We were very disappointed with our opening three games and the soul-searching happened after the England game. But our performances got better over the week and it finally came good against Italy.'
Once again it was a sterling performance from Robertson, crucially switched to scrumhalf, which spurred Hong Kong on.
Robertson scored the second of two tries, and then pulled off a vital tackle on Italian Michele Sepe.