Hong Kong stake claim to top spot in Asia, Eye Incheon Games Gold

Hong Kong's Rowan Varty fends Japan captain Katsuyuki Sakai in the Malaysia Sevens cup final. Photo: Kenji Demura/RJP

 

 

Hong Kong sounded clear warning of their intentions of being number one in Asia and winning the gold medal at the Asian Games when they swept to victory at the Malaysian leg of the ARFU Asian Sevens Series. Hong Kong defeated Japan 24-7 in the Cup final to make it two from two tournament triumphs.

 

The Jamie Hood-led team dominated Japan and outscored them four tries to one to remain unbeaten this season and move close to regaining the Asian crown they last held in 2012.

 

Japan or Korea will need to win the last leg in Beijing in October and hope that Hong Kong don’t finish third if they are to prevent Hood and his men from being crowned champions again. But mathematical equations aside, Hong Kong easily look the most dominant sevens team in the region right now.

 

Grabbing the first two legs in the past fortnight – defeating Korea 40-0 in the Cup final in Hong Kong and the accomplished win over Japan in Kuala Lumpur yesterday – will give Hong Kong the psychological high ground ahead of the Asian Games.

 

“It is important to get this momentum and the players are looking very confident,’ said pleased Hong Kong coach Gareth Baber.

 

“But all this, even winning the Asian crown, will mean nothing if we don’t go on to win the Asian Games gold medal,” Baber added.

 

Hong Kong got off to the worst possible start in the final when they lost veteran forward Lee Jones in the opening minutes to an ankle injury. But replacement Jack Capon stepped in seamlessly and, together with fellow youngsters Michael Coverdale and Max Woodward, ensured Hong Kong remained competitive in the crucial contact areas.

 

Jack Capon. Photo: Kenji Demura/RJP

 

A dangerous tackle by Kosuke Hashino resulted in the winger being sin-binned and Hong Kong made the most of the extra numbers with Rowan Varty breaking a tense deadlock just on halftime to give his side a 7-0 lead.

 

Skipper Hood then added a second after resumption when he received a good pass from Alex McQueen before shrugging off a limp tackle from his opposite number Katsuyuki Sakai to plant a second try.

 

With IRB chairman Bernard Lapasset watching from the stands, Hong Kong then made certain of the result with Tom McQueen crossing over twice.

 

Japan’s plight got worse as they were again reduced to six men when Shohei Toyoshima was sin-binned for a dangerous tackle. Lomano Lemeki scored a late consolation try but Hong Kong was already celebrating.

 

Sri Lanka asked some hard questions of Hong Kong in the cup semis. Photo: Thusith Wijedoru/DigiEye Media.

 

Hong Kong had been made to sweat by Sri Lanka in the semi-finals, scraping to a tense 10-7 victory with the islanders hunting an upset win in the dying minutes after speedster Anuruddha Wilwara had touched down late in the game.

 

Sri Lanka boosted by recently-qualified Fijian Emori Waqavulagi defended strongly and finished stronger as Hong Kong looked a bit leaden-footed as they ran into a strong defence.

 

It was left to the cool head of Rowan Varty to settle the nerves for Hong Kong when just on halftime he found a crack in the defence to score by the corner.

 

Jamie Hood, who had been in superb kicking form failed to convert the try as well as a second Max Woodward-effort after the break, but Hong Kong breathed a little more easily as they led 10-0.

 

Sri Lanka didn’t give up and conjured up memories of the 2010 Asian Games in Guangzhou when Sri Lanka went down by one score to Hong Kong. Wilwara’s virtuoso effort saw the winger step through the defence before outpacing brothers Alex and Tom McQueen to the try-line.

 

But with less than a minute ago Hong Kong hung on to possession from the re-start to deny Sri Lanka a surprise victory.

 

Earlier Hong Kong had beaten Singapore 49-0 in the quarterfinals running in seven tries all converted by Hood. Japan’s path to the final had been past Thailand, 47-7, before holding off a determined challenge from South Korea in the semi-final to win 19-12.

 

South Korea bounced back to defeat Sri Lanka 26-14 to grab third-place. It will come as a disappointment to the Koreans who had finished in the Cup final at the first leg in Hong Kong.

 

A typically bruising Japan v South Korea encounter, but Japan turned the tables to come out on top in Malaysia. Photo: Kenji Demura/RJP.

 

 

For Sri Lanka it was their second successive fourth-placed finish raising questions as to what needs to be done to break into the top three.

 

The top three teams are certain of securing a berth at the Hong Kong Sevens next March.

 

With Japan already being a core team in the HSBC Sevens World Series, two other teams from Asia will qualify for the qualifying competition to be held during the Hong Kong Sevens to decide core team status on the world circuit for the 2015-16 season.

 

China gave Malaysia the slip in sudden death in the Plate final. Photo: Kenji Demura/RJP.

 

 

China held off Malaysia in a tense Plate final going into overtime before disappointing the hosts with a golden point win. Kazakhstan beat the Philippines to claim the Bowl.

 

Captains Crunch: PHI captain Jake Letts comes to grips with Kazakhstan captain Ildar Abdrazakov in the Bowl final. Photo: Kenji Demura/RJP

 

The Series will now break for the Asian Games at the end of the month before resuming for the final leg, along with the 8 top women’s teams in the region, in Beijing on October 18 and 19.

 

Hong Kong are atop the ARFU Asian Sevens Series standings with 24 points from two events with Japan and South Korea tied-second on 21 points. Sri Lanka is in fourth place with 18 points.

 

For video on demand of all matches from the 2014 ARFU Asian Sevens Series please visit, www.youtube/asian5nationstv or like us on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/Asian7s

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