Deluge delivers salvation for Hong Kong in Asian championship
Nick Hewson’s men secure regional runners-up spot, but Japan coach Eddie Jones voices anger at being denied more playing time
Hong Kong held on to their number two spot in Asia after the final match in the Asia Rugby Championship against Japan was abandoned on Saturday owing to torrential rain – much to the disgust of World Cup-bound Japanese coach Eddie Jones. Hong Kong’s women lost 12-27 in their finale against Japan and ended third in the Asia Women’s Rugby Championship.
For the first time in more than four decades a rugby match was called off with the pitch at Aberdeen Sports Ground resembling a lake.
Japan led 3-0 after 13 minutes in the men's event but driving rain forced both teams off as the referee called for a 10-minute rain delay. This was extended by another 20 minutes before Asian Rugby Football Union officials decided to abandon the match and declare it a draw.
That gave Hong Kong three valuable points, which allowed Nick Hewson's men to hang on to the regional runners-up slot behind Japan, who had already been crowned 2015 Asian champions because of their unassailable lead. South Korea finished third."It was absolutely the right decision for the referee to abandon the match," said Hong Kong head coach Andy Hall. "It would have been a struggle to have a boat out there let alone play rugby. The game was important for both teams but it was not worth risking the safety of the players."
Japanese counterpart Jones disagreed saying the match should have gone ahead. The Australian, who will be in charge of the Brave Blossoms at this September's RWC in England and Wales, said the return leg against Hong Kong was one of his last chances to make up his mind on selection.
"It wasn't dangerous out there. We said we wanted to play and that is why we went out and trained saying we were willing, but the decision had been made," Jones said.
"We had guys out there playing for World Cup spots and it is quite disappointing in terms of individuals and what the team wanted to achieve. It is going to be hard for me to cut guys who haven't been given the opportunity.
"We played in Fiji in conditions exactly like this and there wasn't any suggestion that the game would be stopped. I was shocked when after 10 minutes we had a forum on the pitch about cancelling the game."
However, Hall countered: "Everyone came to watch rugby but common sense had to prevail."
Hong Kong, who finished with 11 points, three in front of Korea, had entered the game needing to hold Japan to a winning margin of less than 29 points to pip the South Koreans on points differential."The way the conditions were we would have finished second anyway. It wasn't going to be a game of running rugby and they wouldn't have got 29 points on us so we would have finished second anyway," said Hall.
Despite the sweeping rain, Japanese fullback and captain Ayumu Goromaru knocked over a penalty to give his side an early 3-0 lead. Japan kept the pressure and were pressing for a try when referee Chris Linwood halted play and called both captains to the touchlines for a conference with ARFU officials before play was halted.
After a half-hour wait, the crowd of nearly 2,000 fans was left disappointed when the announcement was made to abandon the match.
"I can't remember a rugby match being abandoned in my time here," said Brian Stevenson, president of the Hong Kong Rugby Football Union. "We came close a couple of times at the Hong Kong Sevens to calling it off but never in a 15s game. However, it was the right decision."
There was double delight for Japan with their Sakura 15 being crowned Asian women’s champions after they defeated Hong Kong 27-12.
In a tight fought encounter played in testing and difficult conditions ahead of the men's game, the Japanese women ran in five tries to seal the title in front of a vocal Aberdeen Sports Ground crowd.
Japan number eight Mateitoga Bogidraumainadave was the stand-out performer on a day a number of players from both sides caught the eye. Bogidraumainadave scored three tries and ultimately proved to be the difference between the two sides.
“It feels awesome and still hasn't sunk in,” she said after the game.
“We came here wanting to win but we had a really young side. But we played to our strengths in the forwards and kept the pressure on them even when we had the yellow cards.”
Japan had three players sent to the sin bin in the second half, including Bogidraumainadave, but they kept their discipline and tackled strongly.Fullback Adrienne Garvey was the pick of the Hong Kong players, creating tries for Ivy Kwong Sau-yan and Natasha Olson-Thorne, but Japan were led by fullback Ai Tasaka and maintained their composure for the win.
The home team defended bravely, trailing 15-12 entering the final quarter before the Japanese ran in two tries in the closing minutes.
Maki Takano scored Japan’s first try before the victory was wrapped up by Emi Ito, who raced 55 metres to score following yet another good catch and counter-attack from Tasaka.
“In the first half we were a little bit nervous,” said Japan coach Goshi Arimizu, whose side included four teenagers in the backs.
“But we played much better in the second half. The whole purpose of the game was to give the young players experience and I thought [17-year-old centre] Riho Kurogi played really well, especially in the second half.