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Rugby: Hong Kong win in Malaysia to stretch Asian Sevens Series lead

Hong Kong beat arch-rivals Japan in the Malaysia Sevens final for a second straight win in the three-leg Asian Sevens Series. Photos: ARFU.

Hong Kong beat Japan 24-7 in the Malaysia Sevens final for a second straight trophy in the three-leg Asian Sevens Series.

September 8, 2014: Hong Kong beat arch-rivals Japan 24-7 in the Cup final of the Malaysia Sevens on Sunday evening to secure a second straight trophy in the three-leg ARFU Asian Sevens Series and send a warning ahead of the upcoming Asian Games in Incheon.

 

The Jamie Hood-led team dominated Japan, scoring four tries to one to remain unbeaten this season and move closer to regaining the Asian crown they won in 2012. Japan or Asian Games hosts Korea will need to win next month’s last leg in Beijing, with Hong Kong finishing outside the top three, to deny the leaders a second Asian Sevens Series title.

 

Hong Kong beat Korea 40-0 in the final of the first leg at Hong Kong Football Club two weeks earlier and the accomplished win over Japan in Kuala Lumpur gave Gareth Baber’s squad a further boost ahead of the Asiad.

 

“It is important to get this momentum and the players are looking very confident,” said Baber, who took charge of Hong Kong at the end of last year. “But all this, even winning the Asian crown, will mean nothing if we don’t go on to win the Asian Games gold medal.”

 

Hong Kong captain Jamie Hood makes a break in the 49-0 win over Singapore in the quarter-finals.

Hong Kong captain Jamie Hood makes a break in the 49-0 win over Singapore in the quarter-finals.

With IRB chairman Bernard Lapasset watching from the stands, Hong Kong suffered a bad start to the final when they lost forward Lee Jones in the to an ankle injury. However, replacement Jack Capon stepped in and, together with fellow youngsters Michael Coverdale and Max Woodward, ensured Hong Kong remained competitive in the crucial contact areas.

 

After Japan winger Kosuke Hashino was sin-binned for a dangerous tackle, Hong Kong made the most of the extra numbers as Rowan Varty broke a tense deadlock just ahead of half-time for a 7-0 lead.

 

Skipper Hood then added a second try after the break when he received a good pass from Alex McQueen before shrugging off a limp tackle from his opposite number Katsuyuki Sakai. Hong Kong then made certain of the result as speedster Tom McQueen touched down twice.

 

Japan’s plight got worse as they were again reduced to six men after Shohei Toyoshima was sin-binned for a dangerous tackle, before Lomano Lemeki scored a late consolation try.

 

Rowan Varty, who scored crucial tries in the semis and final, in action against Singapore.

Rowan Varty, who scored crucial tries in the semis and final, in action against Singapore.

Hong Kong had been made to sweat by Sri Lanka in the semi-finals, scraping to a tense 10-7 victory as the islanders hunted an upset win in the dying minutes after speedster Anuruddha Wilwara had touched down late in the game.

 

Sri Lanka – boosted by recently qualified Fijian Emori Waqavulagi – defended strongly and finished stronger as Hong Kong looked a bit leaden-footed. It was left to Varty’s cool head to settle Hong Kong’s nerves when he found a crack in the defence to score by the corner at the end of the first half.

 

Hood, who had been in superb kicking form, failed to convert both Varty’s try and also a second by Max Woodward after the break, as Hong Kong led 10-0. But Sri Lanka didn’t give up and conjured up memories of the 2010 Asian Games in Guangzhou when they only lost by one score to Hong Kong.

 

Wilwara’s virtuoso effort saw the winger step through the defence before outpacing brothers Alex and Tom McQueen to the try-line, but with less than a minute to go, Hong Kong hung on to possession from the re-start to deny Sri Lanka a surprise victory.

 

Hong Kong had beaten Singapore 49-0 in the quarter-finals, running in seven tries, all converted by Hood, while Japan beat Thailand 47-7 win before edging a determined South Korea side 19-12 in a hard-fought semi-final.

 

South Korea bounced back to defeat Sri Lanka 26-14 to grab third place and condemn their opponents to a second straight fourth-place finish. The top three teams in the Asian Sevens Series are certain of securing a berth at the Hong Kong Sevens next March.

 

With Japan already a core team in the HSBC Sevens World Series, two other teams from Asia will enter the qualifying competition to be held during the Hong Kong Sevens to decide core team status on the world circuit for the 2015-16 season.

 

China held off Malaysia in a tense Plate final, going into overtime before disappointing the hosts with a golden point win, while Kazakhstan beat the Philippines to claim the Bowl.

 

The Asian Sevens Series will now break for the Asian Games before it resumes for the final leg in Beijing – alongside the final women’s series event – on October 18 and 19. Hong Kong lead the series with 24 points from two events, Japan and South Korea are joint second on 21 points, while Sri Lanka are fourth with 18.

 

Source: Asian Sevens Series (www.asian5nations.com/asian-7-series); Editing by SportAsia

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