Hong Kong defend their title in Mumbai, set up showdown in Singapore
Hong Kong kept alive their hopes of retaining their Asian sevens crown by pulling off an impressive 24-14 win over Japan in the third leg of the HSBC Asian Sevens Series in Mumbai on Sunday.
Teenager Raef Morrison scored a decisive try just after halftime with Japan threatening to stage another sensational comeback, but Hong Kong kept their composure and nerve to defeat their arch-rivals for the first time in three attempts this season.
“We were more composed and didn’t panic, and I believe this was the key difference between winning in Mumbai and losing the previous two legs in Malaysia and Thailand,” said a relieved Hong Kong head coach DaiRees.
Hong Kong began with a bang scoring tries from Lee Jones and Tom McQueen to take an early 14-0 lead. They could have stretched it further right on halftime being awarded an attacking scrum five metres from the Japan try-line.
But superb defence by the Japanese turned things around and it was left to Hong Kong’s nemesis this season,Lomano Lemeki, to run 50 metres and plant a try to put his side on the board.
The 14-point turnaround might on previous occasions have torn the heart out of Hong Kong, but 19-year-old Morrison stepped up to the plate and just after the break settled his side’s nerves with a superb individual try beating three defenders to touch down under the posts.
“He was just magnificent all weekend and he is truly a find for us,” said Rees.
The hard lesson from previous tournaments was evident when Hong Kong stretched the lead with skipper Jamie Hood opting to take a drop-goal after being awarded a penalty in front of the Japanese posts.
Leading 24-7 and with the conditions underfoot at the Bombay Gymkhana treacherous and muddy, Hong Kong slowed the game down cleverly and despite a second try by Lemeki finished deserving winners.
The victory pulled Hong Kong to within one point of Japan in the overall standings. Japan are top of he table with 35 points from two wins and a silver medal today in Mumbai, while Hong Kong are on 34 points. Sri Lanka are in sole possession of third place after winning their second consecutive bronze medal to rest on 29 points.
“We are back and there is everything to play for in Singapore next month,” said a happy Rees. The HSBC Asian Sevens Series’ Singapore Sevens (Nov 9-10) will be the finale of the 2013 Asian series.
Hong Kong had booked their berth in the final with wins over Singapore, 28-0, in the quarterfinals and Sri Lanka, 33-19, in the semi-finals.
A hat-trick from Rowan Varty paved the way for victory over Sri Lanka as Hong Kong picked up the tempo after a slow start earlier in the day when they struggled in the wet and humid conditions to overcome a tough challenge from Singapore in a scrappy affair.
The second day jitters, however, were forgotten by the time the semi-finals came around and Hong Kong produced a clinical display rushing to 21-0 lead with tries to Jamie Hood, Varty and Tom McQueen before Sri Lanka got on the board with a breakaway try by Dinusha Chathuranga.
But any hopes of a second-half fight-back by Sri Lanka was quickly doused by Varty who added two more tries to take the score to 33-7 before Sri Lanka scored a couple of late consolation tries from impressive forward Chula Susantha and Saliya Kumara.
Japan’s path to the final was past Thailand, 38-0, in the quarterfinals and then Malaysia, 19-0, in the semi-finals. The Asian juggernaut had looked tentative, especially against Malaysia who defended robustly. But Japan, saving their key players for the final – Lemeki played only the last couple of minutes of the semi – did just enough to secure victory.
Malaysia had earlier pulled off the shock off the tournament by knocking out South Korea in the Cup quarterfinals. It was the second time in the series that Malaysia had got the better of the Koreans, having beaten them in the preliminary round of the first leg of the Malaysia Sevens.
But this was even sweeter coming in the knockout stages. Malaysia made light of the soggy conditions underfoot to run to a 26-0 lead before Korea hit back late with two consolation tries.
The loss in the quarterfinals allowed Sri Lanka to break free and occupy sole third place in the overall standings, a spot they had shared with Korea coming into the India Sevens.
Sri Lanka defeated Malaysia 26-10 in the third place-play-off to grab third spot for the second successive tournament.
Decimated by injuries to key players in previous legs, Korea’s decline continued as they lost to Thailand 8-0 in the Pate semi-finals. The once-proud rugby nation finished 8th, their worst result this season.
All four of the silverware clashes today were revenge matches with Hong Kong tipping Japan in the main event while the Plate was won by the Philippines Volcanoes for the second successive tournament over Thailand, winning convincingly 29-7.
Chinese Taipei faced off with China in the Bowl for a second straight tournament, this time taking out the silverware with a 17-12 win in extra time.
Finally, hosts India defended their HSBC Asian Sevens Series Shield title from last month’s Thailand Sevens, again beating UAE in the final this time by a 22-0 margin.
– VIDEO COVERAGE of ALL the Finals “below” –
CUP FINAL – Hong Kong vs Japan
Malaysia v Sri Lanka (3rd/4th Place Playoff)
Thailand v Philippines (Plate Final)
Korea v Singapore (7th/8th Place Playoff)
Chinese Taipei v China (Bowl Final)