Hong Kong lost 19-12 at the hooter to Japan in tonight’s cup final of the Asia Rugby Sevens Series tournament at King’s Park, Hong Kong.
Both teams entered the showdown with perfect records, although Japan’s march to the finale was the more convincing. Behind player of the tournament and top try scorer Siosifa Lisala (10 tries), Japan posted 44-0 and 40-5 wins over Malaysia and China to advance to their first Cup final since 2015.
Hong Kong breezed by Taipei, 50-0, in the quarters, before squeaking by South Korea 22-17; but the wins came at a cost for a side debuting five new players as two of their most experienced campaigners – both former captains – Jamie Hood and Mark Wright were knocked out of the final with injuries.
The long awaited meeting of the two sides that have dominated Asian sevens for the last decade didn’t disappoint, with a ding-dong affair keeping the fans at Kings Park riveted.
With three newcomers starting the final, (Seb Brien, Hugo Stiles and Jack Neville), it was a veteran that had to show the way, and Salom Yiu Kam-shing did that superbly with an acrobatic kick-off recovery. Yiu regained the ball and his balance before off-loading to Toby Fenn who crossed over in the corner in the first minute. Captain Ben Rimene’s conversion went awry but Hong Kong had the early momentum.
Japan replied well however, controlling play for much of the half as Hong Kong’s debutants dealt with a steep learning curve in the pace and strength of the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series veterans.
The tempo and the pressure eventually told, and Hong Kong went through a rough patch marked by turnovers and errors. A Hong Kong penalty for offside at the ruck quickly lead to a quick tap and go that put Naoki Motomura over for Japan’s first try. Katsuyuki Sakai’s missed conversion left the score at 5-all.
Japan went back on attack immediately, forcing Hong Kong into a defending line-out on its own own 22-metre line. The long throw was not claimed and the ball landed at the feet of danger man Lisala, who promptly notched his ninth try of the weekend. Sakai’s conversion gave Japan a 12-5 lead at half-time and they were threatening to grow the margin even further.
The second half saw the hosts run out a majority of newcomers for the first time in recent memory with Kane Boucaut and Fong Kit-fung coming on, leaving Rimene, Fenn and Michael Coverdale as the only players with experience against Japan in a cup final. That number was reduced in the tenth minute when Coverdale was shown a yellow card after being forced to slow down the Japan attack.
Now it was the newcomers’ turn to lift their performance and the promising duo of Stiles and Brien responded well in defence as they chopped down the larger Japanese backs in the tackle. One such effort, a cross-field, try-saving tackle from Brien, forced the Japan winger to spill the ball, which was fly-hacked deep up field. Speedster Fong Kit-fung arrived with the ball to force a second error from Japan in front of their posts.
Hong Kong were awarded the penalty and a quick tap and go saw the ball fed to Fenn, who ran through Lote Tuqiri to score his second try of the final. Rimene’s conversion levelled the scores at 12-all.
But for Lisala, the match would have gone into overtime. The man who was named the DHL impact player at last season’s Paris Sevens came up big again, taking the ball back through the defence as the hooter sounded to score and give Japan the cup, 19-12, after the conversion.
Coach Paul John couldn’t fault his side for their performance in challenging circumstances.
“The boys have been excellent. A lot of them are carrying niggles and we lost Jamie and Mark for the final, so we were down to ten men really. I can’t fault the effort. I don’t think any one expected us to get that close to Japan considering our numbers.
“It came down to a few 50/50 balls in the final and our accuracy and that’s the nature of the game really. We showed we are not far off of it today and that is a starting point for us. I’m pleased to reach that final and to have given them a really good game.
“We were close to Japan and that was virtually their World Series team, so I think the boys will take a lot of belief from that performance,” John said.
The target will remain the same for the next tournament in South Korea in three weeks as the top two finishers from the Series qualify for the Rugby World Cup Sevens and the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series qualifier at the Cathay Pacific / HSBC Hong Kong Sevens in April.
Asia Rugby Sevens Series 2017
Asia Rugby Women’s Sevens Series 2017