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See You in Moscow! Captains of Asia's 3 qualifying teams for RWC7s 2013: Harry Morris (Philippines), Katsuyuki Sakai (Japan) and Rowan Varty (Hong Kong).
Japan gained a measure of revenge by edging out Asian champions Hong Kong in a pulsating Cup final to claim the cup at the final leg of the HSBC Asian Sevens Series (HSBC A7s) 2012 in Singapore on Saturday.
With International Rugby Board chairman Bernard Lapasset watching in the stands, Japan clinched the Asian qualifiers at a wet Padang ground, grimly holding on to win 14-12.
Japan, Hong Kong and the Philippines, who won the third-place play-off defeating South Korea 22-19, all qualified for the Rugby World Cup Sevens and will represent Asia in the 24-team men’s tournament in Moscow next June.
“It is good to qualify for the World Cup and the bonus was to defeat Hong Kong in the Cup final. This was our twin objective for this tournament and we are very happy to do it,” said Japan coach Tomohiro Segawa.
Two second-half tries by inspirational captain Katsuyuki Sakai saw Japan come storming back after they had been held by a superb Hong Kong defence in the opening half. After leading Japan to its only previous victory on this year’s Series in Borneo, Sakai was recalled into the squad for Singapore after being released from his Top League club in Tokyo.
Tries from Lee Jones and Jamie Hood gave Hong Kong a 12-0 lead at the break but Japan hit back through the brace from Sakai. Sakai also nailed the crucial conversions that gave Japan the tight 14-12 victory in Singapore and avenged their loss in last month’s cup final at the third HSBC Asian Sevens Series event in Mumbai when Japan ceded its Asian sevens crown to Hong Kong.
Hong Kong had been reduced to six men midway through the second-half when Anthony Haynes was sin-binned for a deliberate knock-on, but Japan also lost a player right at the end, giving Hong Kong a last chance with the clock already run down.
The ensuing tap penalty was taken by Hong Kong scrumhalf Cado Lee, but responding to a wrong call, Lee found himself isolated and was tackled into touch by a desperate Japan defence.
“It was a wrong call and we lost that match on one mistake,” said Hong Kong coach Dai Rees. “But at the end of the day we have accomplished the goal we set out to achieve this season, which was to qualify for the World Cup.
“We are also the Asian champions, we have qualified for the London Sevens and we will be playing in the top-16 competition at the Hong Kong Sevens next year. So all in all, it has been a hugely successful season,” Rees added.
A hat-trick of tries from Tom McQueen spurred Hong Kong to a 45-0 win over South Korea in the semi-finals earlier. McQueen, who was celebrating his 23rdbirthday scored twice in the first half after skipper Rowan Varty had settled nerves in the must-win match with an early try. Hong Kong led 19-0 at halftime.
Korea had no answer to Hong Kong’s efficiency and were reduced to mere spectators as the Asian champions added another four tries with McQueen completing his hat-trick, and further tries to Jones, Cado Lee and Eni Gesinde.
Japan was given a harder time in the other semi-final with a gutsy effort from the Philippines who went down fighting 17-7.
While Japan and Hong Kong were assured of their tickets to the World Cup, a great deal was left riding on the outcome of the third place play-off between the Philippines and South Korea.
Asia’s most improved team, the Philippines, stormed off the blocks rushing to a 22-7 lead early into the second half before the Koreans awoke to the fact that their terrible season was turning into a disastrous one. Korea hit back with two tries but had left too much to accomplish too late.
“It is just fantastic that we are going to the World Cup. This is the first time that the Philippines will be playing in a World Cup and it is huge feat for us,” said proud Filipino captain Harry Morris.
“The 3rd/4th match was definitely closer than I wanted it to be. It is the first time that a Philippines team has qualified for a team sport world championship and I give credit to the players for doing this for the nation,” said new Philippines Coach Al Caravelli, formerly the coach of USA Sevens.
“The match against Korea was exactly what you want from any game with that much on the line. Now we need to lift our levels further. We don’t just want to be a number in Moscow, we’d like to make the Philippines and Asia proud of us,” added Caravelli.
Sri Lanka won the Plate final, their third consecutive Plate championship on the Series this season, defeating China 26-5 while Thailand won the Bowl competition with a 26-15 victory over Kazakhstan.