Hong Kong lose to Japan in Asian Games men’s gold medal final
Jamie Hood’s team settle for second straight Asiad silver while Hong Kong women lose out to Kazakhstan in bronze medal play-off
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The ghosts of the past came back to haunt Hong Kong's men's sevens team yesterday as they settled for a silver medal for the second successive Games, once again undone by Japan.
Nemesis Japan won 24-12, scoring four tries to two, including a contentious penalty try that possibly swung the game in their favour. Hong Kong head coach Gareth Baber said: "I don't want to be controversial but yes that try came at an important time."
It was a bitter pill to swallow for Hong Kong and while a silver medal will be some consolation, there was no hiding the disappointment in skipper Jamie Hood and his team.
"To get on the podium is always a good effort but we had our sights set on the gold and we had a team to do that but we failed and it's disappointing," said Hood.
Hopes were high that the men would land the coveted gold medal. And things seemed to be going well with the match finely balanced at 5-5, with Rowan Varty slicing the defence open with a searing 30 metre break to plant Hong Kong's opening try and the first of the match.
Japan equalised but with the hooter gone for half-time, Hong Kong opted to keep the ball alive when awarded a penalty with a tap. Unfortunately it was turned over and a Japan punt downfield ended in a penalty try after Singaporean referee Paul McKay decided that Tom McQueen running back in defence had obstructed a Japanese player.
The controversial decision gave Japan the edge going into the break and although sub Salom Yiu Kam-shing scored with his first touch of the ball to level the score, it seemed the effort of clawing back had taken the steam out of Hong Kong.
Baber said: "It came at an important time in the game and I didn't see anything untoward in that but in all probability a try would have been scored [by Japan]. But it came at a crucial point of the game."
"It is always hard playing Japan in a final of an Asian Games which comes around every four years and makes it even more special and tough. A few decisions didn't go our way and unfortunately it went Japan's way and they got the win," Hood said.
Japan beefed up with six players from the Top League, but it was sevens regular Lomano Lemeki who dealt Hong Kong the killer blows, scoring a try and creating a second to see them push to a 24-12 lead.
Japan's recalled 15s skipper Michael Leitch said: "It means a lot looking towards Rio [Olympics]. Only one team in Asia can take that spot and this victory will go a long way to boost our confidence. Our defence was the key, even when we had six men on the field, we defended well." Leitch was sin-binned in the first half.
Hong Kong had to fight hard against South Korea to book their berth in the final, winning 15-7. But that effort must have taken a toll. Japan had it easier in their semi-final, beating Sri Lanka 40-0.
"We were bullied into losing," sobbed Rose Fong Siu-lan as tears flowed among her teammates after the Hong Kong women lost the bronze medal play-off.
There was not a dry eye around, even head coach Anna Richards was searching for tissues, as Hong Kong saw their dreams of returning with a medal turn to dust. They lost the semi-final, 17-10, to Japan.
The defeats were a bitter pill to swallow considering Hong Kong beat both teams recently - Kazakhstan 12-7 in the group stages.