Rugby: Japan again edge HK for Asian Games gold; China’s women win
- Updated: October 2, 2014
October 2, 2014: Japan won the men’s gold medal at the Asian Games by beating arch-rivals Hong Kong 24-12 in a gripping rugby sevens final on Thursday, while China won the women’s gold less than three weeks after qualifying for the IRB Women’s Sevens World Series.
Japan’s men – who start their campaign as Asia’s first core team on the HSBC Sevens World Series next week – won their third straight Asian Games gold and faced Hong Kong in the final for the second straight Games.
Michael Leitch, the Japan’s 15s captain, was among several non-sevens regulars called up in a bid to help the country retain the Asiad title and re-establish Japan as Asia’s front-runner for a spot at Rio 2016.
“This win means a lot to us,” said New Zealand-born Leitch, a star for Japan at the 2011 Rugby World Cup. “Only one team from Asia will be going to the Rio Olympics and we have put down a marker.”
Hong Kong entered the Asian Games having won both opening legs at the Asian Sevens Series, but couldn’t quite find the winning formula against a Japanese outfit beefed up by Top League players including Leitch, who scored one of his side’s four tries in the final.
After both teams had spent the first five minutes going hammer and tongs at each other, long-time Hong Kong star Rowan Varty cut through the Japan defence to score the first try of the match.
Japan equalised through Leitch, who bulldozed his way over from close range, but he was sin-binned seconds later for a dangerous tackle. Hong Kong failed to take advantage, however, as a superb Japanese defence kept them out.
With the hooter having gone for half-time, Hong Kong opted to keep the ball alive with a quick tap and paid for it when the ball was turned over and Japan punted it downfield. In the chase for the ball, Hong Kong winger Tom McQueen was penalised for obstruction and a penalty try was awarded to Japan.
Hong Kong came back after the break when sub Salom Yiu Kam-shing scored soon after coming on, but Japan pulled away again with tries from Lomano Lemeki and Kazushi Hano, leaving Hong Kong skipper Jamie Hood dejected.
“A silver medal is a great achievement, but it is still a disappointment as we had come here to win the gold,” said Hood, one of six Hong Kong players remaining from the Guangzhou 2010 squad.
Japan had enjoyed an easy semi-final as they breezed to a 40-0 win over Sri Lanka, with Lemeki grabbing three of the side’s six tries, while Hong Kong had to fight much harder to reach the final, beating South Korea 15-7 in a hard-fought clash.
Varty rounded his opposing winger to score the opener in the fifth minute, but winger Jeong Yeon-sik scored as Korea led 7-5 at half-time. With the skies opening up, Hong Kong coach Gareth Baber instructed his side to keep play inside the opponents’ 22. His players carried out the instructions perfectly as they encamped inside Korean territory and kept play tight, with the pressure paying dividends as McQueen and Hood scored tries.
South Korea went on to win the bronze medal by defeating a spirited Sri Lanka 17-14 in a tense game.
The women’s final was equally enthralling as China held off a late surge from Japan to win 14-12 and claim the gold medal that eluded them at home in 2010. Japanese sub Yoko Suzuki thought she had scored late on, but the referee overturned the try for a forward pass and Japan settled for the silver, their first Asian Games medal in women’s rugby.
Kazakhstan won the bronze by defeating Hong Kong 12-0, who had beaten them in the group stage. China had earlier run in four tries past Kazakhstan to win their semi-final 24-12, while Japan edged a spirited Hong Kong side 17-10.
In the men’s playoffs for minor places, the Philippines beat China 28-21 to claim fifth, while Thailand edged Chinese Taipei 12-10 for seventh place. Malaysia took ninth place after beating Lebanon 35-5, while Pakistan pipped Saudi Arabia for the 11th spot with a 12-7 win over the rugby debutants.
In the 10-team women’s competition, Thailand hammered Singapore 38-7 to take fifth place, Uzbekistan edged Malaysia 12-5 to claim seventh, while hosts South Korea beat Laos 34-0 for ninth.
Source: ARFU (www.arfu.com); Editing by SportAsia