[Bangkok, May 4, 2011]: Hosts Thailand have reached the final of the HSBC Asian 5 Nations Division II tournament after beating India 37-24 this evening at Supachalasai National Stadium in Bangkok. In the other semi-final, top seeds outlasted a strong challenge from fourth seeds Iran 34-31 in an exciting seesaw battle.
Today’s matches mark the return of the HSBC Asian 5 Nations to Thailand for the first time since the tournament’s inception in 2008. On that occasion, Thailand defended its home turf to win promotion to Division I. It is a prospect that the Thais will be hoping to repeat in the Division II final on Saturday (kick-off at 16.00 local time). This weekend also marks the first ever neutral HSBC Asian 5 Nations (HSBC A5N) Top 5 match in tournament history as defending champions Japan face off against last year’s runners-up Kazakhstan on Saturday evening (kick off 19.00 local time).
The HSBC Asian 5 Nations Division II competition opened with an exciting seesaw battle between top ranked Chinese Taipei (relegated from Division I in 2010) and fourth seeds Iran (promoted after winning Division III last year in Jakarta). Both sides needed the early stages to settle nerves and shake off rust before finding their rhythm. Chinese Taipei would be the first to strike, through a well-taken penalty by flyhalf Pan Chih-Hsiang, who contributed 9 points this afternoon with the boot.
Chinese Taipei then extended their lead to 8-nil after a try to winger Wu Wei-Luan. Although Chinese Taipei was threatening to pull away at that stage, it would prove to be the largest lead of the entire match. Iran’s first points came through a try to winger Reza Daghaghele, bringing the score to 8-7 after the conversion.
In what would become a pattern for the match, Chinese Taipei centre Hung Pen-Chiao quickly replied with a try to edge his side further ahead 15-7 after the conversion. Iran scored its second try just five minutes later, to edge within penalty range at 15-12 at the half.
In the second half, the physical challenge presented by Iran seemed destined to tip the balance permanently in favour of the Iranians. Flanker Mohammad Khalili barreled over for a try to open the second half and take its first lead 19-15.
But Chinese Taipei winger Wu Wei-Luan then completed his brace of tries moments later to return his side to prominence at 20-19. Disaster was in the cards for the leaders when hooker Chiu Min-Ching was sin-binned for failing to wrap his arms in the tackle. The man advantage to the physically impressive Iranian pack threatened to tip the balance in favour of the underdogs who with a try through towering No. 8 Yoosef Jalali for the second lead change of the second half. Amin Hossein Zadeh’s successful conversion then brought the score to 26-20.
Iranian hopes of an upset were dashed when moments later they gave up a penalty try for repeated infringements while defending their line against the man-down Chinese Taipei. The successful conversion restored Chinese Taipei’s lead at 27-26 with 15 minutes left on the clock. In the 71st minute, Hung Pen-Chiao completed his own brace of tries scoring beneath the posts to edge ahead 34-26 after the conversion.
Iran never gap up and eventually narrowed the gap to 34-31 after fullback Ramin Najafi scored a late try. But time ran out on the valiant efforts of Iran and Chinese Taipei progressed to the Division II finals on Saturday.
In the day’s second match, hosts Thailand delighted a partisan crowd for the weekday opener by beating second-ranked India 37-24 to book their own place in Saturday’s final and earn a chance for promotion in 2012.
Led by burly prop Somjate Anusaen whose brace of tries opened the scoring in both the first and second halves, Thailand controlled much of the possession and consistently looked the more threatening side. Fullback Art-Ong Prasertying added the conversion for Anusaen’s try and a penalty on his way to 12 points this afternoon. Thailand’s second try came moments later as winger Pannapat Pooltharat finished off a flowing backline move to push the hosts out to an early 15-0 lead.
India didn’t get on the board until the 30th minute when their own powerful prop Lochab Devinder barreled over for his first of two tries on the afternoon. Devinder’s try was converted by Lama Sujas to bring the score to 15-7 in Thailand’s favour at the half.
The second half saw Thailand burst out of the blocks with Anusaen scoring his second try five minutes into the second half. Prasertying’s conversion saw the lead extended to 22-7, before flyhalf Thanawatr Jamkrajang pulled his side further ahead with a try on the 50th minute to extend the lead to 27-7. India replied again through Devinder as they looked to use their size advantage to greater effect. The conversion by Lama brought India’s tally to 14 points against 27.
Prasertying would add another penalty moments later closely followed by Jamkrajang’s second try of the match to bring the lead to 37-14 after the conversion. India finally found another gear late in the game, scoring two tries in the final ten minutes through winger Vikas Khatri and barrelling centre Rohit Singh but they couldn’t erase the gap as they fell 24-37 to the hosts.
With its victory today, Thailand has set the stage for a repeat of their hosting of the same tournament in 2008, when they beat Malaysia to secure their spot in the 2009 Division I final. Thai captain Tanyavit Kuasint is hoping history repeats itself on Saturday afternoon.
“This win was an important one for us in front of our home crowds. Our fans are expecting us to win and to be promoted. For me personally, it is also important as this is my tenth year representing Thailand and I will probably step down from the national set-up after this year. I really want to get us back to Division I before I make way for the younger players.”
Thai coach Atapol Wongratana echoed the sentiments of his captain saying, “This is a very good start for us but we can still play much better. Our union expects us to gain promotion as we are hosting in front of our own supporters. We will need a big effort against Chinese Taipei’s forwards but we still have a lot left in the tank and the players can still reach a higher level of performance.”
The HSBC Asian 5 Nations Division II finals will be held on Saturday, May 7, 2011 at Supachalasai Stadium in Bangkok. India will face Iran in the 3rd/4th place playoff (14.00 local time) while Chinese Taipei meets Thailand in the Division II final (16.00 local time).
Admission fees are 200 Thai Baht for the covered grandstand seating and 100 Thai Baht for general admission seating. The proceeds from the ticket sale will be donated to disaster relief for the Tsunami victims in Japan and for victims of recent flooding in Southern Thailand.
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