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Asia Rugby Sevens Series

Consistent Hong Kong hang tight to win Asia Rugby Sevens Series final against Sri Lanka

The host’s good start leaves them well-placed to make a run for a spot at the Singapore Sevens, while HK women remain positive after semi-final loss to China

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 03 September, 2016, 6:42pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 04 September, 2016, 12:00am

The Singapore Sevens berth on offer for the winner of the Asia Rugby Sevens Series looks more than achievable for Hong Kong after they edged Sri Lanka 22-17 in a see-sawing final at Hong Kong Football Club on Saturday.

It is opportunities like this that coach Gareth Baber is craving as he looks to close the gap between his side and the best and Hong Kong showed consistency – often lacking in previous events – throughout the tournament that augurs well for the future.

“It [consistency] is always a big one and every time you go up against tougher and tougher opposition you want to see that in evidence,” Baber said.

“It’s a big thing we have talked about in trying to prove our ability to go and play against the best in the world. There was a lot of consistency about us this weekend which gave us that confidence in a tight final to win.”

The final of the opening tournament of the three round series could have gone either way after Sri Lanka started the better and refused to lay down when Hong Kong hit back.

Tries to James Cunningham and Chris Maize gave Hong Kong the lead after they had trailed 7-0, but the home side were again behind – 17-12 – with only minutes remaining.

Right on track: Hong Kong maintain 100% Asia Rugby Sevens Series record with demolition of Taiwan

Lee Jones found the line to level things up before men’s player-of-the-tournament Ben Rimene took over, slotting the conversion and booting a penalty soon after.

The victory also leaves Hong Kong well positioned to garner the top two finish overall that will guarantee them a spot in the all-important HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series qualifier in Hong Kong next year.

The fact Japan have opted for a development route – fielding a team of university students – leaves Baber’s side in an even better position and he is confident the tight final will hold his charges in good stead.

“We showed common sense and a good rugby brain to get us out, and a will to win,” he said.

“Whatever finals they are, if you can get yourself into them, there is heaps of learning that happens just in these tournaments. You need those situations which really test them [the players] when they are more fatigued than they would be training.”

Hong Kong earlier defeated South Korea 28-14 to progress to the final on the back of two tries to Michael Coverdale, with South Korea going on to defeat China for third place.

Hong Kong women’s coach Anna Richards feels her side is reasonably placed in the series after losing in the semi-finals to China and finishing the tournament in third position.

After going down 19-7 to a China side which lost 14-7 to Japan in the final, Hong Kong crushed Thailand 36-7 in the third-place play-off and Richards is looking forward to the next round in South Korea in three weeks.

“It’s a good start, I would have preferred getting into the final,” she said.

“But I remember the boys last year, I think they got fifth in their first tournament [and ended up finishing second overall]. This is the first year we’ve had three [rounds]. I’d definitely like to get in the final of the next one.”

The match against China saw Hong Kong trailing 12-0 at half-time, before a Natasha Olson-Thorne try gave them a fleeting chance.

It was all one-way traffic against Thailand, with Hong Kong bolting to a 19-0 lead through two tries to Aggie Poon Pak-yan.

Candy Cheng Tsz-ting, Chong Ka-yan, Ivy Kwong Sau-yan and Adrienne Garvey also crossed as the hosts finished the tournament on a high.

“I think we have done some things quite well,” Richards said.

“Giving ourselves the opportunities to attack, we actually look quite good but we have got to do that in the big pressure games now. It is all about getting better each tournament.”