Hong Kong: HSBC Asian Sevens Series 2012 CHAMPIONS
Hong Kong was crowned Asian sevens champions for the first time in its history after they defeated arch-rivals Japan 28-7 in a pulsating final at the HSBC Asian Sevens Series’ Mumbai Sevens on Sunday.
It was a winner-take-all scenario as Japan and Hong Kong emerged as the finalists at the third and final ranking leg of the HSBC Asian Seven Series (HSBC A7s) played before a big crowd at the Bombay Gymkhana Club.
And after many years of reverses, including losing the 2010 Asian Games gold medal match and the 2009 East Asian Games finale to Japan, Hong Kong turned the tables on the Asian juggernaut with an inspired performance scoring four tries to one to clinch the crown for the very first time.
“This is a magnificent victory. It has been two to three years in the making – to be crowned Asian champions,” said an overjoyed Hong Kong coach Dai Rees.
“It is extra sweet as we have lost to Japan so many times in the past in big games, like at the Asian Games gold medal final in Guangzhou (in 2010) and the East Asian Games final (2009). This year too, at the Hong Kong Sevens, we lost to Japan and failed to qualify for the World Series so this win is very satisfying,” Rees said.
Hong Kong drew first blood in the Cup final when Alex McQueen touched down early but Japan struck back immediately to level the scores at 7-7. The deadlock remained by halftime but the second half was all Hong Kong, especially after Japan was reduced to six men after Japan captain Yuki Shishimoto was sin-binned. Tries from Jamie Hood, Kwok Ka-chun and Anthony Haynes sealed a comfortable win in the end.
Hong Kong survived an early scare when Sri Lanka pushed them to the brink in the quarterfinals. The islanders, a transformed side under the coaching of former England sevens star Ben Gollings, caused a few anxious moments as they managed to hold a rampant Hong Kong, who had scored nearly 150 unanswered points in three matches on the opening day, to just seven points in the first half.
Winger Tom McQueen was the saviour for Hong Kong as he scored all three tries in a tense 17-12 victory which was greeted with much relief on the sidelines.
“I was fortunate to get the ball in space and just finish it off. Sri Lanka is dangerous and we almost paid the price for under-estimating them,” said McQueen.
Hong Kong had a far easier time in the semi-finals as they knocked out Chinese Taipei 54-0 with skipper Rowan Varty grabbing a hat-trick while winger Salom Yiu Kam-shing scored a brace.
Japan’s path to the final was also one-sided. The Asian powerhouse hammered an off-colour South Korean outfit 53-0 in the quarterfinals before easing to a 48-0 win over Thailand in the semis.
The final showdown was mouthwatering as so much was riding on the result – the 2012 HSBC Asian Sevens Series champions title, which in turn means a direct entry into the core-team competition against the big guns at the Cathay Pacific/HSBC Hong Kong Sevens next March as well as a berth at the London Sevens, the final leg of the HSBC Sevens World Series.
By finishing top two in the Asian rankings, Hong Kong and Japan are also assured of being seeded in different halves of the draw for next month’s final leg in the HSBC Asian Sevens Series in Singapore, which also doubles as the Asian qualifiers for next year’s Rugby World Cup Sevens in Moscow. Three teams from Asia can qualify.
“Strange as it may sound, we still have not achieved the goal we set out to do at the start of the season which is to qualify for the World Cup Sevens in Moscow next year. All our focus will be on this and this victory will boost us,” Rees added.
Three teams will qualify from Asia for the 24-team World Cup. By virtue of being ranked number one, Hong Kong will miss meeting Japan until the final if the formbook holds good at next month’s Asian qualifiers in Singapore, the fourth and last leg of the HSBC Asian Sevens Series.
Chinese Taipei ended their HSBC A7s 2012 series on a high note by capturing third place overall for a second consecutive tournament after Shanghai, this time beating Thailand in the play-off 24-21. The win propelled Chinese Taipei up the HSBC A7s table into third spot on 40 points and guaranteed them one of the three places for Asia in next year’s Cathay Pacific/HSBC Hong Kong Sevens.
Sri Lanka captured its second consecutive Plate after Shanghai after dispatching Malaysia 22-17 in extra time. China, a surprise name in the lower ranks after finishing third in its pool after day one, rebounded to win the Bowl and capture nine points on the table.
China beat Singapore in the Bowl final 28-14. China will now regroup as it prepares to qualify for the Rugby World Cup Sevens as one of the top three overall finishers next month at the Singapore Sevens, (Nov 2-3 at Singapore Cricket Club).
Hosts India on its HSBC A7s debut, finished a disappointing tournament by losing the Shield final to Iran, also marking its debut on the HSBC A7s this weekend in Mumbai. Iran won 27-7, dashing the hopes of a large crowd of vocal home supporters.
The HSBC A7s Mumbai Sevens is the third and final ranking event on this year’s HSBC Asian Sevens Series. With 16 participating teams it also marks the largest ever HSBC A7s event.
The action resumes with the fourth and final event on the Series in Singapore next month. The Singapore Sevens will be played in conjunction with the Singapore Cricket Club Sevens as it marks its 65th anniversary in 2012.