Asian Games: imperious Hong Kong cruise into semi-finals of rugby sevens after two Thai strolls
Paul John’s men secure two straightforward wins over Thailand to set-up semi-final clash against South Korea
Hong Kong’s men were in ripping form again on Friday as they laid waste to Thailand twice on a sweltering day of rugby sevens action at the Asian Games.
Paul John’s team beat Thailand 36-7 in the midday sun to wrap-up group play with the mercury touching 34 degrees. Later, in the quarter-finals, they were paired with the luckless Thais again for the last match of the day.
The only consolation for Thailand second time around was that they weren’t savaged in the stifling hot, with the conditions far more favourable for their evening meeting, which ended 52-0 to Hong Kong.
There were some signs of lethargy in the ranks after Hong Kong quickly moved into a 14-0 lead in their first game of the day.
A lapse in concentration allowed Thailand to register before Hong Kong regained control, but the error was something Hong Kong skipper Ben Rimene was eager to address.
“We’ll have to go away and work on things we weren’t too happy with,” Rimene said. “We relaxed a little bit too much after going a few tries in front.”
But with pool play concluded Rimene’s message was clear: there was no more room for error.
In the second meeting after sundown at GBK Rugby Field, it was a far more focused performance from John’s men.
“We were a bit disappointed with the last game in the pool. We let them back in the game when we shouldn’t have,” John said. “But we’ve kept 12 men fit and they’ve all had a lot of game time now. “Everyone’s contributed, so we’re ready for a big game against Korea now.”
“We’ve just got to build on the good things that we’re doing and talk about the things that will suit our game plan for tomorrow,” John added.
South Korea, the only country to have medalled at all five Asian Games where rugby sevens has been contested, also made the last-four with minimal fuss.
They eased through their group before wrapping up a 40-5 win over Malaysia in the quarters.
Ominously for the winners of that clash, Japan, the pre-tournament favourites, extended their winning run at the Asian Games to 21 matches on Friday.
The gold medallists at the last three Asian Games have so far scored 213 points in their four matches at this edition, without conceding a single point. They play Sri Lanka, who surprised China, in the other semi-final.
Hong Kong’s women suffered an altogether different outcome against Thailand in their quarter-final match. A disjointed performance from Kevin West’s side saw them dumped out 17-5 in the last-eight for the first time at the Asian Games.
Hong Kong were fancied to march past Thailand, who had lost two of their opening three matches, in their quarter-final clash, and coach West expressed his disappointment at the loss.
“We’re gutted – as well as Thailand played I think the collective opinion is that we’ve let ourselves down a little bit,” West said. “We didn’t work through our processes. It was a big game, perhaps that had an affect. We haven’t done that before so we are very disappointed.”
West said that Hong Kong had been aiming to build on two fourth-placed finishes at the Asian Games going into the tournament.
“We were looking to try and get a medal so this is well short,” West added. “We’ll just have to lump that and that’s going to hurt.
“They’re very disappointed. It hurts more when we believe that we could have won that and we are more the architects of our own downfall than the opposition.”
Hong Kong’s women now go into a classification round where the best they can hope for is a fifth-place finish.