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Rugby: Japan break Hong Kong hearts again to win Thailand Sevens

Japan celebrate a 17-10 extra-time victory over Hong Kong in the final of the Thailand Sevens, their second straight title on this year’s HSBC Asian Sevens Series.

Japan celebrate a 17-10 extra-time victory over Hong Kong in the final of the Thailand Sevens for their second straight title on this year’s HSBC Asian Sevens Series.

September 22, 2013: Japan’s new sevens sensation Lomano Lemeki was again a match-winner as he scored the golden try in sudden death to give his team a thrilling 17-12 victory over Hong Kong in the final of the Thailand Sevens, the second leg of this year’s HSBC Asian Sevens Series.

 

Sri Lanka earlier celebrated their highest-ever finish in a series tournament with a bronze medal after a 29-7 win over South Korea, avenging their loss to the same opponents at the same stage in the series opener in Malaysia earlier this month.

 

Lemeki, Player of the Tournament in Malaysia, scored 11 tries in Thailand to continue his star turn for Japan. He has scored 17 tries and two conversions for 89 points from two tournaments, ahead of Hong Kong’s Tom McQueen with 12 tries (seven in Malaysia and five in Thailand) and 60 points.

 

Playing his first season for Japan, Lemeki was on hand to pick up and score after the ball had been turned over in the first minute of extra-time in the final to allow Japan to take another huge step towards reclaiming their series crown from Hong Kong.

 

Japan's Dai Ozawa scores to force the Cup final into extra-time.

Japan’s Dai Ozawa scores to force the Cup final into extra-time.

Hong Kong led 12-0 at the break with tries from Tom and Alex McQueen, but Japan bounced back superbly with tries from Takashi Suzuki and Dai Ozawa, the latter just seconds before the end of regulation play, to push the final into extra-time.

 

“We just went back to basics. In the first half Hong Kong had the ball for eight of the 10 minutes and we knew if we had to make a comeback, we needed to lay our hands on the ball and keep control of it,” Lemeki said.

 

Japan kicked off in sudden death and Hong Kong won the ball, but from the subsequent play, former skipper Rowan Varty knocked on and Japan made the most of it with a quick counterattack which led to Lemeki’s golden try.

 

With victory in both of the first two legs – Japan defeated Hong Kong 14-10 in Malaysia – the Brave Blossoms only need to win one of the last two legs (Mumbai and Singapore) to be crowned Asian champions once again.

 

Hong Kong's Rowan Varty offloads in the final against Japan.

Hong Kong’s Rowan Varty offloads in the final against Japan.

Hong Kong assistant coach Alex Gibbs said: “The pressure is on us. We cannot afford to slip up now and we need to win both of the remaining two legs. This is a two-horse race now, with both of us clear of the rest of the pack.

 

“The guys have just got to believe that they can do it. We certainly have the talent to do that, but we must start to win these close games. With a lot of new faces in the squad, we needed to keep our composure in the second half, but unfortunately a few things didn’t go our way.”

 

Both Japan and Hong Kong had swept into the finals with crushing wins in their earlier games on Sunday.

 

Japan defeated Malaysia 38-7 in the quarter-finals before demolishing Sri Lanka 52-5 in the semis. Japan ran in nine tries against Sri Lanka, with Lote Tuqiri grabbing a first-half hat-trick and the impressive Lemeki scoring a brace.

 

Hong Kong looked impressive as they brushed aside Kazakhstan 31-0 before overcoming South Korea 27-0 to enter the final.

 

After a closely contested opening few minutes against Korea, Hong Kong cut loose as tries from winger Tom McQueen and forward Nick Hewson gave them a 12-0 lead at the turnaround. Hard-working scrumhalf Alex McQueen added a third before Ben Rimene, coming in as a replacement for skipper Jamie Hood, finished it off with a brace.

 

Sri Lanka’s resurgence this season continued to gather momentum as they swept into the Cup semi-finals for the second successive tournament with a 26-0 win over hosts Thailand.

 

After losing to Japan in the semis, Sri Lanka faced a bronze-medal showdown against an injury-affected Korea, who had reached the last four by warding off a stiff challenge from the Philippines before winning 19-7.

 

Scrumhalf Srinath Suriyabandara, who had scored a hat-trick against Kazakhstan in pool play, was at the centre of the island nation’s attacking play, frequently wrong-footing opponents. Other standouts included speedy winger Sandun Herath, skipper and playmaker Fazil Marija and forward Sajith Saranga.

 

The Philippines held off a gutsy effort from hosts Thailand to take home the Plate, winning 22-14. It was the first silverware of the year for the ‘Volcanoes’, who joined Hong Kong and Japan as Asia’s representatives at this year’s Rugby World Cup Sevens in Moscow.

 

China bounced back from a forgettable weekend marked by red cards and severe injuries to claim the Bowl by beating Chinese Taipei 21-14.

 

India won the Shield by defeating the United Arab Emirates 31-10 to garner some momentum before hosting the next tournament on the HSBC Asian Sevens Series, next month’s India Sevens in Mumbai.

 

Thailand Sevens (HSBC Asian Sevens Series), Bang Saen, Chonburi Province

 

Cup final: Japan 17-12 Hong Kong

Third place playoff: Sri Lanka 29-7 Korea

Plate final: Thailand 14-22 Philippines

Seventh place playoff: Malaysia 21-26 Kazakhstan

Bowl final: Chinese Taipei 14-21 China

11th place playoff: Singapore 26-5 Laos

Shield final: India 31-0 UAE

15th place playoff: Cambodia 40-0 Uzbekistan

 

Cup semi-finals: Japan 52-5 Sri Lanka; Hong Kong 26-0 Korea

Plate semi-finals: Malaysia 14-26 Thailand; Kazakhstan 10-14 Philippines

Bowl semi-finals: Singapore 7-21 Chinese Taipei; China 32-0 Laos

Shield semi-finals: Cambodia 5-26; Uzbekistan 12-21 UAE

 

Cup quarter-finals: Japan 38-7 Malaysia; Sri Lanka 28-0 Thailand; Hong Kong 31-0 Kazakhstan; Korea 19-7 Philippines

Bowl quarter-finals: Singapore 40-0 Cambodia; Chinese Taipei 24-0 India; China 22-0 Uzbekistan; UAE 12-21 Laos

 

Pool A: Philippines 26-10 Singapore; Japan 45-5 Singapore; Japan 24-10 Philippines

Pool B: Chinese Taipei 0-14 Kazakhstan; Sri Lanka 26-5 Kazakhstan; Sri Lanka 15-12 Chinese Taipei

Pool C: Malaysia 26-7 UAE; Korea 43-0 UAE; Korea 31-7 Malaysia

Pool D: Thailand 12-7 China; Hong Kong 36-0 China; Hong Kong 33-7 Thailand

Pool 13-16: India 10-5 Uzbekistan; Cambodia 14-26 Laos; India 29-5 Cambodia; Uzbekistan 10-7 Laos; India 14-5 Laos; Uzbekistan 17-17 Cambodia

 

For further information, visit, www.asian5nations.com/asian-7-series

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