Hong Kong will face New Zealand, Canada and Wales at next year’s Women’s Rugby World Cup after Jo Hull’s side produced a courageous display in Saturday’s final qualifier for the 2017 tournament losing 20-8 to Asian champions Japan.
Both sides had already secured qualification for the 12-team showpiece in Ireland following early wins over Fiji, but it was Japan who secured Asia/Oceania’s number one seed and a place in pool C alongside the hosts, France and Australia thanks to two tries from fullback Mayu Shimizu.
Number eight Melody Li Nim-yan scored a thoroughly deserved try for Hong Kong inside the final 10 minutes after centre Adrienne Garvey had earlier kicked a penalty.
“After a bit of a brain freeze in the first half and letting them score two tries, we played really well in the second half. We started to play our game and play our structure and defended really well,” said Li.
“The build up to today was good with test matches against Kazakhstan and Fiji and we are hoping that soon we can be the number one team in Asia.”
Jo Hull’s side were unlucky not to add further points to the scoreboard as Hong Kong showed significant improvement, following 39-3 and 30-3 losses to Japan in the Asia Rugby Championship earlier this year.
“We played a class team, but for periods today we performed very well in both attack and defence. We didn’t quite achieve our aim of being number one in Asia, but we will keep working on that,” Hull said.
Japan started on the front foot and opened the scoring after just four minutes as hooker Misaki Suzuki dove across the line in the corner following a driving maul off a line-out deep in Hong Kong territory. The visitors maintained the pressure and added a second try soon after as Shimizu crossed following strong Japan pressure.
Hong Kong settled into the contest as the half progressed with the boot of Rose Hopewell-Fong proving useful in relieving Japan pressure, and Hull’s side started to make forays into opposition territory.
But the home side were dealt a blow after 27 minutes as lock Chan Ka-yan was shown a yellow card following repeat infringements from Hong Kong.
Hull’s side survived playing with 14 players and made an encouraging end to the first half despite being unable to break through a tough Japan defence as Karen So Hoi-ting nearly took advantage of some good work from Hopewell-Fong.
Hong Kong’s resurgence continued at the start of the second half, but eight minutes after the restart Shimizu broke clear and touched down after a superb solo run to hand Japan a 15-0 lead.
Chong Ka-yan fell agonisingly short of a try for Hong Kong after 53 minutes as the winger was held up in the corner, but the home side were on the board soon after when Garvey slotted home a penalty from 10 metres out in front of the posts to cut Japan’s lead to 15-3 with over 20 minutes remaining.