Hong Kong the victims of nine-try Japan romp
Masks are back in vogue. But all the prevention in the world could not have stopped that virulent strain of rampant Japanese rugby yesterday.
Japan, the defending HSBC Asian Five Nations champions, once again exposed the gulf between themselves and the rest of the region by storming to a 59-6 victory over Hong Kong at Football Club.
Their feverish tempo led to a nine-try romp and put them well on course to retain the title for a second successive year, and extend a long-held regional domination.
New Hong Kong coach Dai Rees, watching the Asian juggernauts in action for the first time, knows he has a huge task in hand if he is to get his team anywhere close to Japan in time for next year's Top Five competition, which decides the Asian team who earn a direct entry to the 2011 World Cup.
'The difference between the two sides is that they are a full-time professional outfit while we are an amateur side,' Rees said. 'I was pleased for 60 minutes of the game but this is international rugby and you can't drop off the pace for 20 minutes and expect a team like Japan not to score.'
Hong Kong, who trailed 26-6 at half-time, had a good first half hour, trailing Japan by a mere six points. Rees' counterpart, John Kirwan, had expected this. He also knew that as long as his players kept their discipline and shape, the tries would come. And it started to flow once the initial exuberance of the home team had dried up in the hot conditions.
'We were under pressure for the first 20 minutes and we knew Hong Kong would throw everything at us, and they did that. But our guys managed to hang on to the ball and scored a few tries. It was much better in the second half,' Kirwan said.
Hong Kong could even have taken the lead early in the game, coming desperately close to scoring on two occasions. The first was when Simon Hempel latched on to a chip from Kenzo Pannell and sliced his way through before passing to new cap Sebastian Perkins, who was caught inches from the line.
Then it was the turn of Rowan Varty to lift local hopes when he broke free from a tackle, made a break and once again found Perkins in support.
But both times Japan's scrambling defence snuffed out the threat.
On a third occasion, Hong Kong skipper Jon Abel opted to take a kick rather than a scrum or tap when the referee awarded a penalty metres from the Japan line. Those missed opportunities were the closest Hong Kong would get.
Pannell knocked over that penalty, and one more, to score Hong Kong's only points.
'If we could have scored those tries it would have been closer. Then it would have been a performance we would have been happy with, but unfortunately we didn't and we gave away a few silly tries,' Rees said.
Japan's pace and power was too hot to handle. Scrumhalf Fumiaki Tanaka's superb sniping put Hong Kong under constant pressure.
Undoubtedly the man-of-the-match, Tanaka was the creator behind most of the tries, six of which were scored by the forwards - Kensuke Hatakeyama (two), Naoki Kawamata, Hitoshi Ono, Yoshitaka Nakayama and Takashi Kikutani.
Winger Hirotaki Onozawa and fullback Jack Tarrant also got on the scoresheet, before Tanaka capped off a good day with the last try. Centre Ryan Nicholas converted seven of the nine tries.
Flankers Nigel Clarke and Kwok Ka-chun had outstanding games for Hong Kong.
Simply the best
Of the six Rugby World Cups staged, Japan have participated as Asia's representative in all: 6