Hong Kong’s World Cup hopes teetering on a knife edge after Asia Rugby Sevens Series hiccup in South Korea
A semi-final loss to Japan sees Paul John’s men needing everything to go right in the final leg in Sri Lanka
Hong Kong’s chances of qualifying for next year’s Rugby World Cup Sevens rest on a knife edge after they failed to make the final of the second round of the Asia Rugby Sevens Series in South Korea.
Paul John’s charges went down 19-7 to Japan in the semi-finals before eventually defeating China 22-17 in the play-off for third place, leaving them sitting third in the series.
Hong Kong are on 18 points, with South Korea – who defeated Japan 17-12 in the final – second on 20 and Japan in front on 22.
With only the top-two finishers in the three-leg series earning a spot at the World Cup and next year’s World Series qualifier in Hong Kong, everything must go right from here.
Only a berth in the final will do in the final leg in Sri Lanka in three weeks, and even then Hong Kong will be relying on South Korea finishing below them.
“It’s going to be a shoot-out in that last tournament in Colombo,” John said. “We are going to have Japan, Philippines and Malaysia in our group so we’ve got to focus on the first two games and then a big last game against Japan.
“Japan in our group could be a good thing because then we cross over [from pool play to the knockout stages]. It’s just close now, very, very close.”
With five fresh faces in the side for this series, it was an unknown how Hong Kong would perform away from home and John knows his group will be better for the experience.
“These guys are learning all the time, there is a lot of learning to be had in competition about how to manage yourself between games and between days and between tournaments, which we have to get right over the next three weeks,” he said.
Hong Kong’s day two started in positive fashion with a 31-12 win over Sri Lanka, with Jack Neville starring with three tries, but they again fell short against Japan despite being within five points late in the match.
“The boys played very well in the quarter-final, really applied themselves and stuck to task, then in the semi-final we turned the ball over too much and gave them easy tries,” John said.
“Again we went very close but not quite against Japan, obviously losing the game against Korea [in pool play] put us in that position.”
Seb Brien was Hong Kong’s try scorer in the semi-final, while Neville, Jamie Hood, Jason Jeyam and Chris Maize crossed as their side ground out a win against a persistent China.
Hong Kong’s women finished fourth, losing 28-0 to Japan in the semis before going down 24-7 to Kazakhstan in the play-off for third place.
The day started in a more positive manner, with Hong Kong holding off Thailand 19-15 in the quarter-finals and Anna Richards was pleased with her side’s results after having limited preparation time because of the 15s World Cup.
“If I’m going to be honest, I’m pretty happy to be in the top four on what we have done this year. The girls haven’t really done any sevens for five months,” she said.
Paul John eager to see Hong Kong youngsters perform on the road as Asian sevens series heads to South Korea
“There were parts that were quite positive. The teams have all got a lot better, Kazakhstan have always been very good. It was always going to be a tough tournament coming in on a limited build-up.”
It was Nam Ka-man who found the try line for Hong Kong against Kazakhstan, while the ever-reliable Natasha Olson-Thorne scored two tries in the win over Thailand.