India and Pakistan come to grips in KL
India and Guam progressed through to the finals of the HSBC Asian 5 Nations (HSBC A5N) Division III championships with wins over Pakistan (34-5) and Indonesia (38-17) respectively in today’s semi-finals played at the Stadium Kelana Jaya in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
The HSBC A5N Division II and III are both being played this week in Kuala Lumpur and are doubling as the latest stages in the Asian qualification process for Rugby World Cup 2015 in England. The winners of both divisions will have a single match play-off later in the year to determine which team is promoted to Division I in 2013 thus seeing their Rugby World Cup dream continue.
A classic sporting rivalry between India and Pakistan was a highlight of today’s Division III action. While an India win never looked in doubt, Pakistan achieved some moral victories in holding India to its lowest ever winning margin between the two sides, (29 points), and managed to tally their first try against their neighbours when winger Ahmed Fiaz scored in the 71st minute.
The teams have played three tests since 2004, with two of them coming in HSBC A5N tournaments (Division II in both 2008 and 2010) with Pakistan scoring single penalties in 2004 and 2010, and suffering a heavy 92-nil defeat in 2008.
Despite blooding 11 new players in today’s encounter, Pakistan looked much improved after a strong preparation period under new coach and former Ireland international and European Cup champion Justin Fitzpatrick.
India also entered this year’s tournament with a raft of new players and a new coach in Mitsutake Hagimoto, who also coaches the Japan Women’s team.
After having been relegated as the bottom placed finishers in last year’s HSBC A5N Division II tournament in Bangkok, India made an emphatic statement about their intentions to climb back up the ladder today, scoring four tries in the first half in hot and humid conditions today in Kuala Lumpur.
India opened the scoring through lock Surinder Singh in the 9th minute, with fullback Rohaan Sethna adding a try and his own conversion moments later, en route to nine points on the day (1 try, 2 conversions). Other first half tries came through winger Vikas Khairi and flanker Tuiweli Serukalou.
In the second half, India added a further two tries through reserve flanker Shokender Singh and No 8 Hrishikesh Pendse. Sethna’s 2 conversions and brought the final score to 34-5.
“Pakistan versus India, reminds me a bit of the rivalry between Ireland and England,” said Fitzpatrick. “There is a lot of personal pride involved for the players from both teams. India were promoted two years ago and are an older and more established rugby nation so they are really the form side in this rivalry,” said Fitzpatrick.
Pakistan manager Rizwan Malik also spoke about the contest saying, “For both countries, an India-Pakistan game means a lot. It doesn’t matter what sport it is, it gets a lot of attention. While we didn't win today, I am satisfied with the way the players went, particularly the new caps.
“Rivalry aside, we have a long-running and very positive relationship with the India Rugby Union. No matter what the politics are, rugby people are special and the sport places a focus on camaraderie amongst players and teams.
“Both teams make the effort to ensure as much exchange as possible. If we can’t do it at home or in India, we play overseas to keep our sporting ties vibrant. In this respect, the HSBC A5N has been invaluable. We first played India back in 2002 and have played them twice before in the HSBC A5N, in Thailand in 2008 and in Malaysia in 2009,” said Malik.
In today’s entertaining opening match between second and third seeds Guam and Indonesia, Guam jumped out to an early lead when scrumhalf Steven Sablan opened the scoring for Guam on a length of the pitch try against the run of play in the 6th minute. Sablan’s try helped propel Guam to an early 19-3 lead.
But the Indonesian Rhinos fought back bravely to score 14 unanswered points and pull nearly level on 17-19 in the 30th minute. But Guam winger Paul Eustaquio collected his second try of the day right at halftime to give his team an important lift heading into the changing room.
Eustaquio was the man of the hour for Guam as he scored a hat-trick to send his side through to their second consecutive Division II final.
Indonesia scrumhalf Kirk Arundale, who crossed over at the hooter last year to beat Pakistan and nab Indonesia the third seed for 2012, accounted for 12 points today from a try, two conversions and a penalty, keeping his team in contention. Arundale’s haul saw him top 100 points in HSBC A5N tournament play.
But changes in tactics by Guam saw Indonesia held scoreless in the second half while Guam’s Eustaquio tallied his third try in the 57th minute, followed by reserve Jesse Manglona in the 70th minute. The conversion from centre Gerard Aguon, who had eight points today from four conversions, brought the final score to 38-17.
Guam coach Willie Hetaraka commented on Indonesia’s performance saying, “They are much improved. We skipped out to a 19-3 lead in the first half but I was impressed with the way they came back. We were pretty worried at one point. In the second half we decided to bring it in a bit tighter and use our forwards and set piece a bit more, which worked as we held them off. But to be honest, the score doesn’t really reflect how close this match was.”
New Indonesia coach Jamie Johnston, former coach of the Kenya Sevens team and an ex-Harlequin, said:
“Our guys hung in there well. We weren’t as tight as I would like us to have been obviously and we gave away a few easy options if you like, but I think it comes down to the fact that we are not playing enough test rugby or getting together long enough. We will look at what we can do about that in future.”
India will face Guam in the finals of Division III on Friday, June 1 (16.30). It will be the first time the two teams have met head to head in the HSBC Asian 5 Nations and just the third time overall. India holds an edge with one win from the past two encounters in 2007, while the teams drew 8-all back in 2005. Indonesia will face Pakistan in a re-match of last year’s thriller (14.30).
The HSBC A5N Division II semi-finals now take centre stage tomorrow (May 31) as Thailand face Iran in the opener, while hosts and top seeds Malaysia face China (16.30). Entrance to all of the games at Stadium Kelana Jaya is free.