Hong Kong reign supreme in Sri Lanka slop to seal spot in next year’s Rugby World Cup Sevens in San Francisco
Paul John’s side defeat Japan in extra-time thriller to take out the final leg of the Asia Rugby Sevens Series
Two wins over Japan, a tournament victory and a spot in next year’s Rugby World Cup Sevens – the final round of the Asia Rugby Sevens Series could not have gone much better for Hong Kong.
They entered the tournament on a knife edge and left with the knowledge that they can take down Japan when it matters, also securing a spot in April’s World Series qualifier at the Cathay Pacific/HSBC Hong Kong Sevens.
Paul John’s side needed to leapfrog South Korea into the top two overall in the series to earn their spot in the World Cup in San Francisco and the qualifier and did it easily in the end, stunning series winners Japan to take out the final 19-14 in extra time.
The Koreans fell to Sri Lanka in the play-off for third place, ensuring Hong Kong entered the final against Japan knowing the main job was done.
But that did little to slow down John’s men, who also knocked off the Brave Blossoms on day one and handled the atrocious conditions in Columbo better than anyone.
“It’s huge for the programme, playing in these major competitions is the key to developing and progressing the programme,” John said about what lies ahead. “It’s a huge thing for Hong Kong rugby to be playing in these major competitions.
“I thought we stood off Japan a bit in the first half because obviously Korea not winning the third place meant that we were automatically qualified.
“But we really went for it in the second and got what we deserved. To beat Japan twice in two days is a great achievement. I don’t think it was a weak Japan side, that’s for sure. It was a very, very strong one.”
Hong Kong fell behind 7-0 and 14-7 during the final but fought back to level the scores on both occasions, with Toby Fenn and Kane Boucaut running in tries during regulation time.
But it was Seb Brien who was the hero, with the nuggety youngster dotting down in the second minute of added time to secure a memorable victory for John’s men.
“We were disappointed with our performance [in round two] in Korea [where Hong Kong finished third] and we realised that one poor half, one error at the wrong time can cost you massively in sevens,” John said.
“The main goal was to get qualification and I’m just pleased the way that they dug in and fought for each other out there.”
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Hong Kong’s day got under way with a 50-0 romp over Taiwan in the quarter-finals, with Boucaut the chief destroyer with three tries and Hugo Stiles dotting down twice.
A 26-12 win over Sri Lanka in the semi-final was built on the brilliance of winger Salom Yiu Kam-shing, who crossed twice and worried his opponent’s with his strength and speed around the ball.
It was a tough day for Hong Kong’s women, who had to settle for fifth place in the tournament after losing their quarter-final against Thailand 12-7.
They still managed to finish fourth overall in the series behind Japan, China and Kazakhstan and coach Anna Richards wasn’t too displeased with the loss to Thailand.
“The whole weekend has been a bit of leveller with the mud, there has been a lot of close games and I think Thailand have played pretty well across the series,” she said.
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“We just made too many errors and we just turned the ball over a bit too much. I think the girls have just got to get a little bit better at staying calm and being able to maintain their focus and skills in the big games.”
Chong Ka-yan was the try scorer in Hong Kong’s loss to Thailand, while Colleen Tjosvold starred with three tries as Richards’ side dispatched South Korea 29-0 in the plate semi-final.
Their day concluded with a 12-5 win over Sri Lanka in the plate final, with the lively Chong crossing twice.