Hong Kong and Japan stayed on course for a showdown at the HSBC Asian Sevens Series (HSBC A7s) in Singapore after both ended the opening day of action yesterday one win away from securing their Rugby World Cup Sevens 2013 berths in Moscow.
Asian sevens champions Hong Kong and No. 2 Japan both finished unbeaten and reached the Cup semifinals of the fourth and final leg of the HSBC Asian Sevens Series which is also doubling as the Asian qualifiers for the World Cup next June.
Hong Kong meet South Korea while Japan comes up against the Philippines and the stakes are high – with the winners assured of their places in the World Cup Sevens. The losers will have one last chance, meeting in the third-place play-off for the last of three tickets given to Asia.
“We are where we wanted to be,” said Hong Kong captain Rowan Varty. “We had three very convincing wins, but what matters now is to win our semi-final and make sure we are going to Moscow.” Hong Kong booked their berth in the last four with an impressive 33-0 victory over Malaysia. A solid defense was the cornerstone for the win with forward Nick Hewson, Anthony Haynes and Kwok Ka-chun all having huge games.
“Our defense was the major difference and we will have to keep this up as we reach the business end of the tournament,” said a pleased Hong Kong coach Dai Rees.
“The key was trying to win the ball back when we didn’t have it. In our opening pool games, we had plenty of possession, but against Malaysia it was our defense which won us the day,” Rees added.
While Japan was hardly pushed all day, coach Tomohiro Segawa called his players to increase the intensity, especially at the breakdown if they are to finish the tournament in style – by beating Hong Kong in the final.
“Yes, that is our aim, to beat Hong Kong. We are hurting that they are the number one team in Asia and we are determined to make a statement,” Segawa said.
“But we have to play better than we did today. We were slow at the breakdown, securing the ball and then getting it away. We need to move the ball more quickly,” said Segawa.
Singapore made its home advantage tell, marking its first appearance in the Cup competition to date on the HSBC A7s. Unfortunately it was drawn alongside Japan, who rode rampant over the hosts 47-0 in the quarterfinals to earn a berth against the Philippines who defeated China 14-7. In the other quarterfinals, South Korea had to work hard to beat a stubborn Sri Lanka, winning 19-12. Hong Kong had earlier booked their quarterfinal berth with wins over Guam and the Philippines to emerge unbeaten from Pool A.
Guam struggled against the smooth efficiency showed by Hong Kong, and slipped to a 48-7 defeat in the opening match of the tournament.
The Philippines proved a much stronger opposition having recalled eight players based in Japan and Australia but in the end they too couldn’t do much against Hong Kong going down 29-12.
Hong Kong began strongly with Tom McQueen finishing off a nice break by Anthony Haynes to open the scoring a minute into the game. The top seeds won two subsequent kick-offs to race to a 17-0 lead inside three minutes, with further tries from Jamie Hood and Tom McQueen completing his double.
Elder sibling Alex McQueen then powered over for Hong Kong’s fourth try as the Asian champions finished the first half with a commanding 24-0 lead. The Philippines came back strongly with tries from Matt Saunders and Andrew Wolff but a sniping run from sub and scrumhalf Cado Lee ensured a comfortable win for Hong Kong.
Japan had ensured their quarterfinal berth with a thumping 57-0 victory over Indonesia and a 35-0 win over Sri Lanka. South Korea and China also emerged unbeaten from the preliminary round.
The Koreans saw off hosts Singapore 49-7 before prevailing 26-12 over Thailand. China’s two wins were against Kazakhstan, 26-14 and Malaysia, 22-19. The Malaysians fielding a number of Fijians, looked dangerous but superior fitness on a hot and humid day counted at the end.