Mind games: Hong Kong display new-found mental strength in dominant Asia Rugby Sevens Series win
After a tough first day marred by a loss to South Korea and an injury to Tom McQueen, Gareth Baber’s men destroy Sri Lanka 36-0 in title decider
Hong Kong coach Gareth Baber believes his side is now far better placed mentally to deal with the unpredictable nature of sevens rugby than they were 12 months ago after a second successive win in the Asia Rugby Sevens Series.
This was shown as Hong Kong trounced Sri Lanka 36-0 in the final in South Korea, despite going down to the hosts 28-21 in the pool stages and losing Tom McQueen on day one with a knee injury.
“What I’m pleased about really is, last season we sort of had a bit of a look at our game, we hadn’t done much wrong, we just got a better team on the day,” Baber said.
“We managed to learn some lessons and put them in to play today. It is a lot about the training we do, it is a lot about the work we do in Hong Kong to condition the players mentally and physically to be able to handle that. Sometimes you get it a bit wrong like we did [against South Korea] but it’s about how you respond.”
The win puts Hong Kong in the box seat to take out the overall series and a top-two finish in Sri Lanka next month will be enough to seal victory.
With this will come a berth in the world series qualifying competition in Hong Kong in April and a spot in the main draw of the Singapore Sevens the following week.
Baber heaped praise on a number of his players after a dominant day that featured a 29-0 semi-final win against China, but was especially pleased with the work of Lee Jones, who scored seven tries for the tournament.
“He is very consistent, accurate in all that he does and he works really hard on being a professional rugby player,” Baber said.
Jones capped an exceptional individual effort with two tries in the decider, while Rowan Varty, Ryan Meacheam, Chris Maize and Cado Lee Ka-to also scored.
Earlier, Hong Kong’s semi-final win against China featured five tries, with a yellow card to China late in the first half allowing Baber’s men to open up a handy 17-0 half-time lead.
Alex McQueen and Michael Coverdale both scored tries while their opponents were a man down, before captain Max Woodward and Maize crossed in the second half to ensure their side the easiest of victories.
Hong Kong’s women are destined to finish the series in third place after again going down to eventual champions China in the semi-finals, although they showed far less fight this time around.
While in Hong Kong in round one of the series the margin was 12 points, a 40-5 loss was evidence of the gap between Anna Richards’ side and the best teams in Asia.
“We talked about doing a hot defence against China and we just didn’t get up in their face,” said Hong Kong coach Richards.
“We just fell off the tackles. If you give China room to move they love it. We talked about putting pressure on them and we just didn’t and our inside cover didn’t cope either.”
China outplayed Hong Kong, running in four first-half tries to lead 26-0 at the break before Hong Kong managed to stem the flow somewhat in the second half.
Sham Wai-sum provided Hong Kong’s sole highlight when she found the line in the final minutes.
Like they did in Hong Kong, Richards’ side finished the tournament strongly with a 27-12 win over Thailand to take third place overall.
Chong Ka-yan was the catalyst behind the big win, scoring three tries and creating plenty of opportunities for her teammates.
“We got a really good start, a good first half and really dominated,” Richards said.
“We talked about putting the foot on the throat, but then we let a couple of mistakes creep in and in the end they scored a couple of tries. I thought some of our play against Thailand was very good.”
The positive result against Thailand gave Richards some confidence that her side can finish well in the series finale in Sri Lanka next month.
“In a lot of areas we took a step up from Hong Kong and again that is what we have to do in Sri Lanka,” she said.
“It’s just about trying to crack a win against either a Japan or a China.”
China defeated Japan, who won the first leg of the series in Hong Kong, 21-14 in the final.