Asian Games: Hong Kong cap an incredible campaign with long-awaited rugby sevens gold on final night
Hong Kong’s men save the best for last as they beat Japan to take the gold medal
Hong Kong finally claimed a rugby gold medal on Saturday and the sense of relief was palpable after they handed pre-tournament favourites Japan a first Asian Games defeat in 12 years.
Japan, gold medallists at the last three editions, had gone 22 matches without a loss before they ran into a Ben Rimene-inspired juggernaut in the gold-medal match, going down 14-0.
The win secured Hong Kong’s eighth gold medal of these Games and provided a perfect finale to what has been an ultimately successful Games for Hong Kong.
In a much-delayed final, Japan provided predictably staunch opposition and were always a threat. But a superb rearguard effort from Hong Kong muzzled their powerful forwards.
Salom Yiu went over for Hong Kong after just one minute, 27 seconds, and on the stroke of half-time, impressive youngster Alessandro Nardoni burst through, with skipper Rimene converting both times.
The second-half was a tense affair and there was no further scoring as Hong Kong launched a stirring rearguard effort.
Coach Paul John paid tribute to their defensive performances on the final day against Japan and South Korea in the semi-final, who they defeated 19-7.
“The defence in the last two games has been absolutely superb,” John said, “that’s what won us the game there.
“Korea was my concern, they gave us a very, very tough game and I think that prepared us for Japan because, without firing on all cylinders, the boys have performed really, really well.
John said there was weeks of preparation work in the build-up to the Games and commended his team on their efforts.
“The commitment from the boys has been superb over the last four to six weeks. It’s massive squad effort from everyone, including the staff.
“We’re just glad we finally get a gold medal. It’s great to get a tournament win. It’s great for Hong Kong rugby after all the hard work that goes in behind the scenes,” John added.
One player who showed the ultimate in commitment was Rimene, who gave up his New Zealand citizenship in order to go for gold in Jakarta.
“I made the sacrifice – there was no guarantee of even medalling, but I made it and I’m happy I made it,” Rimene said. “I’m not the most emotional person but I’m pretty happy.
“I’d just like to thank all the boys who trained with us back in Hong Kong and all our loved ones back home. They make a big sacrifice as well. This makes it all worth while.”
The 33-year-old Rimene, who said before the tournament that he was targeting gold in Jakarta, reflected on the biggest achievement of his rugby career.
“It’s the second biggest multisport event in the world, so to say you’re a gold medallist in an event like that – especially from small town in Cambridge, New Zealand – probably not the thing you think you would be doing when you get to 33 years old.”