After reaching the final last week in Chile, the Hong Kong Rugby Union’s men’s sevens squad turned in a polished performance in Montevideo, Uruguay to reach the cup quarterfinals of the Challenger Series finale.
The results should be sufficient to garner Hong Kong a place in the top eight teams advancing to a third and final qualification event later this year, but Hong Kong are eyeing a bigger prize and the inaugural Challenger Series title.
They are on track to achieve that goal as Hong Kong turned in a professional outing in Montevideo to top Pool B and set up a quarterfinal clash with Italy, who finished second in Pool C, on Sunday, (Monday am 1.24 Hong Kong time).
Coach Paul John has made three changes in the squad from Chile adding in a wave of Hong Kong’s next generation players in Max Denmark, Seb Brien and Hugo Stiles, who replace Mike Coverdale, Alex McQueen and Ben Rimene this weekend.
Earlier in the day, Hong Kong beat Brazil 41-5 behind a dominant performance from Kane Boucaut who maintained his personal momentum after another series of vital performances in Chile.
Boucaut was everywhere in the rucks and on defence early on, helping to negate Brazil’s size advantage. He created Hong Kong’s first scoring opportunity with a clever carry in heavy traffic and a deft offload to put Salom Yiu Kam-shing in the clear.
Brazil managed its only try of the game on its only attack of the first half, as a fortunate loose ball bounce and some top speed out wide levelled the scores at 5-all. Hong Kong never looked back from there as they went on to add six more tries in the match with scrumhalf Cado Lee Ka-to topping the scoring with a brace, while Boucaut capped a fine outing with the game’s final try.
Up next were Jamaica, who had upended Uganda in their opening match. Hong Kong has had a string of wins against Jamaica of late, making it harder in every match to maintain dominance, but another clinical outing saw Hong Kong keep the upper hand.
Hong Kong took the attack to Jamaica’s doorstep early on with an early chance going missing after some loose play in the ruck saw Jamaica recover and flash back down field for an opening 5-0 lead.
Hong Kong patiently clawed their way back into the lead behind a natural hat trick from Raef Morrison to take a 17-7 advantage into half time. Yiu and Stiles extended the lead in a comfortable second half to finish out 31-7 winners.
That brought up Uganda, who were the first to buckle under the pressure of expectations after finishing inside the top eight last weekend in Chile. With all teams better for a second outing, (and a first ever opportunity for many to make immediate adjustments and improvements on a performance the prior weekend), the level has risen once again in South America, as Uganda learned when Jamaica upended them in the first pool match of the day.
With Uganda’s early loss to Jamaica guaranteeing a quarterfinal place for Hong Kong after two pool rounds, the weight of expectation was off of Hong Kong’s back, but after being run uncomfortably close by the Ugandans in Chile, the boys in blue left no doubt in Uruguay.
Hong Kong went to work early and often against the Africans, with a four try first half outburst fuelled by the new additions for this weekend. Max Denmark put Hong Kong on the board with a good finishing run of an early break out wide. That score was quickly followed by a natural hat trick from Seb Brien down the rest of the half as Hong Kong led 28-0 at the break.
Two second half tries from Uganda narrowed the line but a try from Liam Herbert in the 11th minute kept Hong Kong firmly in the lead as they won 38-12.
In other tournament action, Japan made an important statement after being ushered out of the final last weekend by Germany winning their opening match 71-5 against invitational side Paraguay, en route to finishing at the top of Pool C. Japan and Hong Kong were the two most offensively potent teams after day one, posting 123 and 110 points respectively with points differentials of +96 and +84.
Japan advanced to a cup quarter final against Jamaica, while Germany once again topped Pool A and will face off against last week’s fourth placed finishers Chile in what should be a tight quarterfinal. Tonga eclipsed Chile to finish at the top of Pool D and will face off with hosts Uruguay in the fourth quarterfinal.
Hong Kong Sevens (Touring Squad): World Rugby Sevens Challenger Series: Max WOODWARD (captain)*; Ben RIMENE; Raef MORRISON*; Michael COVERDALE; Hugo STILES*; Cado LEE Ka-to*; Jamie HOOD*; Jack NEVILLE; Alex McQUEEN; Liam HERBERT*; Russell WEBB*; Max DENMARK*; Sebastian BRIEN*; YIU Kam-shing*; Kane BOUCAUT*; Toby FENN*.
* Selection for Montevideo, Uruguay