Japan & Hong Kong lead IRB RWC 2011 chase after Week 3 of HSBC A5N
[May 8 2010, Hong Kong]: An entertaining weekend of elite Asian rugby in the HSBC Asian 5 Nations (HSBC A5N) has helped clarify the qualification picture for IRB Rugby World Cup after an emphatic win over the Arabian Gulf by reigning champions Japan and a gritty victory by Hong Kong over nearest chaser Kazakhstan.
Japan made it two bonus-point wins from as many games in this year’s HSBC Asian Five Nations – and 10 from 10 in the three-year history of the tournament – when they beat the Arabian Gulf 60-5 in Tokyo. The victory puts John Kirwan’s team a step nearer being Asia’s automatic representative at the 2011 Rugby World Cup. But once again the Brave Blossoms had to work hard for the win.
Just as in South Korea last week, Japan started slowly, leading just 26-0 at the break. Centre Alisi Tupuailei opened the scoring in the 15th minute following a well-worked scissors move with flyhalf James Arlidge. Captain Takashi Kikutani stretched the lead seven minutes later before creating Japan’s third try for Arlidge in the 26th minute.
Kosuke Endo rounded off the half by crossing in the 39th minute even though Japan were a man down following the sin binning of Shinsuke Nakamura for repeated team infringements.
The hosts then wrapped up the game with five tries in the first 20 minutes of the second half. Kaoru Matsushita and new cap Ryo Kanazawa both rounded off flowing backline moves with Kanazawa touching down in just his second touch in test-match rugby and Matsushita adding his second as Japan went 48-0 up.
Kikutani and Tupuailei later added their second tries of the day but it was the Arabian Gulf who was to cap the scoring with Sean Hurley going over four minutes from full time, with Japan once again down to 14 men following a yellow card to Toshizumi Kitagawa.
“I couldn’t ask much more from the boys,” said Arabian Gulf captain Michael Cox-Hill. “We never gave up and proved that by scoring in the 76th minute. We can take a lot of credit for the way we played.”
Kirwan admitted his side had made a lot of mistakes, many of which were unforced.
“It wasn’t the performance we wanted,” he said. “We wanted to start better than last week, which we didn’t do. Our game plan was to play fast rugby and when we did we scored. But our ball retention was poor and that didn’t help us speed the game up. But we took a step toward understanding who we will take to the World Cup.”
Kirwan stressed that it was a young team playing today and that things could only get better.
“We haven’t hit our stride yet,” he said. “It’s nothing to get upset about but I wouldn’t like it to happen next week.”
That warning will ring ominously in the ears of Japan’s upcoming opponents Kazakhstan who come off a disappointing loss today to hosts Hong Kong at the Hong Kong Football Club.
Hong Kong grimly held on to score a narrow 19-15 victory over Kazakhstan to keep alive their hopes of finishing second and clinching the repechage World Cup play-off berth against Uruguay.
Two tries either side of halftime, the first by tighthead prop Nigel Hobler and the second from centre Simon Hempel saw Hong Kong scoot to a 19-9 lead early in the second half, to seemingly be on target for an easy win.
But Kazakhstan fullback Maxim Lifontov, who had knocked over two first-half penalties, kept his side in the game kicking three more penalties as the visitors clawed their way back to reduce the deficit to just four points in front of a capacity crowd at the Hong Kong Football Club.
Despite the victory, an air of disappointment hung over the Hong Kong camp as they failed to get a vital bonus point having scored less than four tries, and in turn conceded a bonus point to Kazakhstan for finishing within a seven-point margin of defeat.
“If anybody had told me at the start of this competition that I would be disappointed after beating South Korea and Kazakhstan, I wouldn’t have believed it,” said Hong Kong head coach Dai Rees.
Rees’ disappointment stems from the fact that Hong Kong, who have 12 points from three games, could still miss out on the runners-up slot in the tournament if Kazakhstan win one of their last two matches against Japan and South Korea, and claim a bonus point. If that happens, Hong Kong could miss out, unless they manage to grab a bonus point of their own against Japan in their final outing in Tokyo on May 22. It will be a tough ask.
“We are happy that we got the result today. A win is a win, but we are disappointed that it is slightly out of our hands now,” conceded Hong Kong skipper Simon Leung. “It is disappointing when you have to depend on others.”
Hong Kong will now have to hope that winless South Korea manage to pick their game up and defeat Kazakhstan when the two sides meet, also on May 22.
Hong Kong led from the outset and always seemed to be in control. Winger Alex McQueen knocked over two early penalties before Kazakhstan equalized through the prodigious boot of Lifontov who kicked over two penalties, the second a monster 50-metre effort.
Spilled passes saw Hong Kong fail to convert territory and possession into points and the only reward for all the hard work was another successful penalty from McQueen.
Just on halftime, prop Hobler danced his way through three tackles after Hong Kong had taken a quick tap penalty 10 metres from the goalline, to crash over for the first try of the game. McQueen failed with the conversion but Hong Kong led 14-6 at the break.
Lifontov missed a penalty soon after resumption, but made amends minutes later as Kazakhstan closed the gap to 14-9. However Hong Kong pushed ahead once more when Hempel was the first to get to a ball hacked through by fly-half Keith Robertson to score six minutes into the second half.
McQueen missed the conversion, but leading 19-9 Hong Kong would have felt confident of finishing off the game and grabbing a bonus point. But the litany of errors continued as the high humidity took a toll on both sides. Lifontov had two more chances, but could only convert one as Kazakhstan inched their way to within one score. However Hong Kong’s defence held for the 19-15 home win.
“It was very hot, we made too many mistakes,” said disappointed Kazakhstan captain Timur Mashurov. “We are not happy. Now we must beat South Korea.” That match will be held in Seoul on May 22.
As title sponsor of the Asian 5 Nations (A5N), HSBC is committed to the development of the game throughout Asia. HSBC aims to bring positive social change to different cultures and communities through its diverse rugby sponsorships across the world. HSBC Rugby invests in over 30 different countries from the very pinnacle of the elite game through to the development of emerging rugby countries through the Asian 5 Nations. Each of HSBC’s rugby sponsorships share one common aim of uniting people and cultures through the positive values of rugby union.
HSBC is also a long-term sponsor of the Penguins International Rugby Club, which is represented by 30 nations and has provided coaching sessions to local communities in 62 countries. In partnership with ARFU and the HSBC Penguins Coaching Academy, HSBC supported a series of rugby coaching clinics throughout Hong Kong in the lead up to the A5N tournament. The commitment to grassroots development is continuing throughout the duration of the HSBC A5N with Youth Rugby Festivals reaching thousands of youth in Singapore, Japan, Hong Kong, Korea, Dubai, Bahrain, Indonesia, India, Laos, Cambodia and Nepal in the next few months.
Led by former Scotland head coach Frank Hadden, the clinics will be supported by a team of HSBC Penguins and HSBC A5N coaches as well as team stars from several Asian nations. To date, the youth festivals have been held in Hong Kong, Dubai, Macau, Singapore and Nepal.