Hong Kong opened its defence of the Asia Rugby Sevens Series title today at home at Kings Park. Despite blooding five new players in the squad, the hosts picked up where they left off after sweeping last season’s Asian Series, topping Pool A after wins over Malaysia, Philippines and China on day one.
Salom Yiu Kam-shing started his season on a positive note, scoring twice in the opening 31-0 win over Malaysia. The remaining tries came from across the squad with Toby Fenn tallying his first try of the season, along with Hugo Stiles and Sebastien Brien, two of the five new players in the squad.
In an encouraging sign, Brien and Stiles stepped up once again in the next match, with hooker Brien grabbing a hat trick in a 38-5 win over the Philippines. Stiles added his second of the day with experienced campaigners Jamie Hood and Mark Wright both getting on the score sheet with tries.
Hong Kong faced its stiffest test in the final pool match against a China side drawn from the Shandong team that won the recent All-China Games. China had beaten the Philippines, and posted the day’s top score on day one against Malaysia (54-14), to enter the final match without a loss.
Despite conceding a try in the opening seconds, Hong Kong were untroubled by their northern neighbours, running away with the game after first half tries from Fenn and Brien.
Any chance of a China comeback was put to rest with a sin-bin in the second half that opened the door for Fenn to score his third try of the tournament, before Jack Neville, on his Hong Kong debut, added the icing to the cake with a try at the death. Jamie Hood’s conversion brought the final score to 26-7.
Brien’s five tries have him joint-equal with Korea’s Jeong Yeon-sik for the tournament lead with Japan’s Katsayuki Sakai holding the overall points lead after two tries and nine conversions on day one.
Coach Paul John was pleased with his squad’s early season progress after his first day’s outing at an Asia Rugby Sevens Series tournament, having joined the Hong Kong set-up last March ahead of the Hong Kong Sevens.
“It was a tricky group and our first tournament of the season, but the boys have had a good day. We needed that China game to help get us into tournament mode, but I was impressed by the way we stuck to our task today.
“I think our defence was better than it has been. We didn’t concede any silly tries today. Even that try against China, we made them work hard for that. That’s a positive but it’s day one, tomorrow’s what counts. It’s one game at a time now, but we have had a decent day and I’m quite pleased with that.”
John was pleased with his debutants as well: “They all played very well and had an impact when they came on. Seb was very good. He has trained with us for a long time now and come up through the U20s, so it was his time and he’s done really well.”
Today’s results see Hong Kong match up against Chinese Taipei, fourth seeds in Pool B, in their cup quarter final tomorrow at 12.22.
“Taipei had a tough day today, but we can’t take anyone for granted. It’s all about us getting our game right now and our first game on day two is vitally important. I’d like to see us maintain possession a bit better. In our first game today we gave up possession a bit easier than we should have,” John added.
Japan were the class side in a tough Pool B with 33-5 and 33-10 wins over Sri Lanka and Korea, who chased Hong Kong to the finish last season; they also blanked Chinese Taipei 38-0 to finish day one with a perfect record.
Japan will play Malaysia, fourth seeds in Pool A in their quarter final (12.44), while Sri Lanka will face off in a tough encounter with China at 13.06. South Korea and the Philippines will open tomorrow’s action at Kings Park at noon.
Hong Kong is the first of three legs on this season’s circuit, (the others are South Korea and Sri Lanka) The top two teams at the conclusion of the series will qualify for the Rugby World Cup Sevens 2018 and the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series qualifier, played as part of next April’s Cathay Pacific/HSBC Hong Kong Sevens.
Asia Rugby Sevens Series 2017 | Hong Kong |
Hong Kong | Sri Lanka | China | Korea
Malaysia | Japan | Philipines | Chinese Taipei