Bitter taste to historic HK medal

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 24 November, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 24 November, 2010, 12:00am

Rugby became the first team sport to win a medal for Hong Kong at the Asian Games. The only thing is, the medal was the wrong colour.

Hong Kong had to settle for silver after Japan, down to six men for five minutes of the second half in the final yesterday, held on to win 28-21 to deny Mark Wright and his men a more exalted place in the records.

While a silver medal is nothing to be sneezed at, at the end of the day, no one quite remembers who came second. And Rowan Varty summed up that feeling in the squad, when he said: 'It hurts a lot.'

But head coach Dai Rees said failing to capture the gold should not distract from the 'enormity' of having won a silver medal.

'It was an outstanding performance,' he said. 'We had the opportunity to win, but we didn't lose it.

'A couple of controversial decisions by the referee cost us.'

He was referring to the match-winning try, in which Japan won a ball from the ruck, which Rees said had been done illegally. 'They threw everyone into the contact area when the rule says you have to stay on your feet,' he said. 'Four players went into that breakdown and they won that ball which led to the try.

'I'm disappointed for the guys. They didn't make mistakes, but some poor decisions by officials cost us the game. But the guys have achieved a lot. They achieved a first team medal at an Asian Games for Hong Kong and I don't want to detract anything from that achievement.'

The Japanese have to be commended for their backs-to-the-wall performance. When Masahiro Tsuiki was red-carded for a spear tackle on Kwok Ka-chun, it looked as if the game was finally swinging Hong Kong's way. Trailing 21-14, and with more than five minutes left - the final being 10 minutes each way - Hong Kong quickly capitalised on the extra numbers, Salom Yiu Kam-shing touching down under the posts to level the score. But then Japan controlled the ball and starved Hong Kong of possession.

'You would have thought that with [Japan having] six men, and that long to go, we would have put it away,' skipper Wright said. 'But we threw too many people into the rucks trying to get that ball out because we knew we had the overlap. But we committed too many and we were caught short in defence.'

Japan made the most of that.

Yasunori Nagatomo stole the ball from a ruck and darted in for the decisive try.

'It is disappointing, but still we are happy,' Wright said.

'We came fifth last time [in Doha] and now to win Hong Kong its first medal, a silver, in a team sport. To come second is still huge.

Japan took a 14-0 lead before Hong Kong scored when Varty, backing up a chip from Keith Robertson, ran 60 metres to give Hong Kong hope. But that lead was once again extended and Japan led 21-7 at the break. A great tackle from Wright, who was immediately on his feet, forced a penalty, and Robertson did the rest, with a quick tap he ran 40 metres to score under the posts. Yiu's try, with Japan down to six men, levelled the score.

But Hong Kong failed to win enough possession in the final five minutes to secure a golden victory.

They had survived many anxious moments to get to the final.

Anthony Haynes scored a decisive try in sudden death to give Hong Kong a narrow 19-14 victory over China in the semi-final.

It was a tense thriller in front of 25,000 screaming fans urging China on. China will rue the decision to take a penalty in the dying seconds of the game with the scores level.

Instead of kicking for touch and taking a line-out inside the Hong Kong 22, China captain Johnny Zhang Zhiqiang decided to go for a kick, 40 metres out.

His attempt fell short and it went into extra time, where Haynes delivered Hong Kong into the final.

Earlier in the day, Hong Kong had to ward off stiff resistance from a gutsy Sri Lankan team before winning a tense quarter-final 19-14.