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Rugby Sevens: Hong Kong stunned by Italy, as Japan edge Russia

Rowan Varty (right), playing in his ninth Hong Kong Sevens, will have to wait at least another year before fulfilling his dream of competing for Hong Kong on the HSBC Sevens World Series. Photos: Power Sport Images for HKRFU.

Rowan Varty (right), playing in his ninth Hong Kong Sevens, will have to wait at least another year before fulfilling his dream of competing for Hong Kong on the HSBC Sevens World Series. Photos: Power Sport Images for HKRFU.

March 30, 2014: Japan will carry Asia’s hopes of a core team on the 2014/15 HSBC Sevens World Series after Italy upset hosts Hong Kong 12-0 in the second semi-final at the 12-team qualifier, which is being held as part of the Cathay Pacific / HSBC Hong Kong Sevens.

 

Japan earlier edged Russia 19-14 through a sudden-death try by Kosuke Hashino to complete a spirited fightback, having been being 14-0 down within six minutes before drawing 14-14 after regulation time.

 

Hong Kong had comfortably defeated Italy 19-0 in Saturday’s final pool match and the hosts were hot favourites against the European side, who weren’t rated among the qualifying competition’s top contenders before the event.

 

The game was even and scoreless until the end of the first half, when Hong Kong winger Salom Yiu Kam-shing failed to catch a pass and the ball spilled to Italy, who counterattacked and eventually scored through Fabrizio Sepe, despite covering tackles by Alex McQueen and Max Woodward.

 

Steven Bortolussi converted to put Italy 7-0 up at the break and Hong Kong coach Gareth Baber sent on flier Tom McQueen for Yiu at half-time. However, even the support of a raucous crowd at a packed Hong Kong Stadium couldn’t lift a tired-looking Hong Kong side and Sepe scored his second try midway through the second half to effectively secure the tie.

 

Hong Kong flyhalf Ben Rimene feels the pain of a semi-final exit.

Hong Kong flyhalf Ben Rimene feels the pain of a semi-final defeat to unfancied Italy.

“I’m obviously disappointed with the way we’ve gone out. The players are desperately disappointed. You’re always desperately disappointed whenever you lose a game,” said Baber, a former Wales Sevens scrumhalf and head coach.

 

“Yesterday, we got our heads up and we were into the game very quickly. Today, we took a while to get into it and that probably played into Italy’s hands. In fairness to Italy, they were very aggressive in the contact area and that probably turned the game.”

 

The Welshman also said some of his players made some poor decisions, specifically of stepping inside into the contact area rather than backing themselves in the open spaces on the outside.

 

“We were slightly off game plan, taking the ball back into them a couple of times too much, which we didn’t need to do and that gave them the opportunity to frustrate us,” he said.

 

Baber said his side were yet to find consistency from game to game, as well as the ability to raise their performance in crucial periods and matches.

 

“We played some good ones, but as I said before the tournament, we’ve got to find consistency,” he said. “We had it on two or three occasions this weekend, but we didn’t have it enough when it came to the top end.”

 

Japan, arguably the pre-tournament favourites to earn a place on next season’s Word Series, also looked in danger of a shock exit when they found themselves 14-0 down after six minutes against Russia.

 

After Vladislav Lazarenko put Russia ahead, Japan looked set to equalise when Yoshikazu Fujita – one of two wingers recruited from Japan’s 15s teams – sprinted towards the left corner with a try beckoning. However, the winger inexplicably turned inside and his attempted pass to a teammate was intercepted and a rapid counterattack resulted in Evgeney Nepeyvoda scoring at the other end.

 

Lomano Lemeki, whose missed tackle led to Russia’s first try, made up for it with an individual effort just before half-time, as the skilful hooker broke from inside his own half to score before captain Katsuyuki Sakai converted to make it 14-7.

 

Japan’s second-half pressure eventually paid off as big centre Lote Tuqiri, moved to hooker after the break, broke through and almost reached the posts before skilfully offloading in a tackle to substitute Yusaku Kuwazuru, who touched down before Sakai’s nerveless conversion forced sudden death.

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