[Hong Kong, April 30, 2011]: Former All Black John Kirwan was an unhappy man after rusty Japan eked out a 45-22 victory over Hong Kong to get their defence of the HSBC Asian Five Nations Top Five competition off to a winning start at Hong Kong Football Club.
Japan led 31-3 at the break but a spirited Hong Kong out-scored the Asian champions three tries to two in the second half leaving head coach Kirwan less than pleased.
“The only positive out of this game was the win,” said Kirwan. “But I’d rather this happens now than later on this season. We have plenty of work to do.”
Japan ran in seven tries - five of them in the first half - with winger Alisi Tupuailai grabbing a hat-trick. No.8 Ryukoliniasi Holani, flyhalf Shaun Webb, left winger Hirotoki Onozawa and flanker Michael Leitch also scored one each. Centre Ryan Nicholas collected 10 points from the boot.
Hat-trick hero Japan’s Alisi Tupuailai
But the glut turned into a drought as Hong Kong bravely fought back and took their chances superbly to leave Japan in disarray by the end of the game.
“It was a poor performance from our team,” Kirwan said. “We didn’t protect the ball and we lost our composure. I thought we were rusty at halftime, but we got rustier as the game wore on.”
Despite pre-game worries by Kirwan of a slow start, the players who are all in the preliminary World Cup squad came out firing on all cylinders, dominating both set pieces as well as in the loose to look threatening. But the spark died down after the break as a gutsy Hong Kong didn’t let up.
“We got in their faces and put them under pressure,” said Hong Kong national coach Dai Rees. “This is the best performance in recent years against Japan and the guys can be very proud of themselves.”
Hong Kong’s second-half resurgence began with a lovely break from fullback Ross Armour, who made up for his first-half sin-binning, by slicing through the midfield and sending an inside pass to replacement winger Alex McQueen who scored under the posts.
Hong Kong then capitalised on Japanese errors to run in two more tries. The first came from openside flanker Mark Goosen, who picked up from a breakdown and took the direct route to the tryline catching the defence flatfooted. Then winger Rowan Varty turned on the speed when he picked up a dropped pass metres from his own line to run the length of the pitch and score.
“We took our chances. We had two 50-50 chances to score tries and we took them,” Rees said. “We had an unfortunate first half and were hard done by in contact areas, but all credit to the guys for coming back strongly.”
Hong Kong captain Tom McColl praised his side for the resilience showed against Japan who has dominated the tournament since it began in 2008.
“I’m really happy that we didn’t give up. The disappointing thing is that we couldn’t quite get the bonus point for scoring four tries. This was our goal before the game, to be in contention for a win at the end or to try and score four tries,” McColl said.
“We gave away a few early soft tries but then our defence picked up. What we proved today is that we can compete with Japan and this is a huge morale boost for the team,” McColl added’
Japan found Hong Kong harder going than expected.
The United Arab Emirates 24-10 victory over Kazakhstan leaves them at the top of the standings with eight points after round two. Japan is in second place with six points but with a game in hand on the rest of the pack. Hong Kong lie third (five points) followed by Sri Lanka (three) and Kazakhstan (0).
“We will have to pick ourselves now and focus on our next game away to Sri Lanka in Colombo. But even though we lost today, the guys will be proud of this effort,” McColl added.
In the curtain-raiser to today’s HSBC Asian 5 Nations match, the Japan Women’s team beat the Hong Kong Women’s team 15-nil. All the points came in the first half of what was an even and exciting match, with Japanese winger Yuki Nakao taking a brace with tries in the 7th and 40th minute of the opening stanza. Centre Akari Fujisaki crossed the line in the 33rd minute to complete the scoring.
Japan Women defeated Hong Kong Women 15-0 in the curtainraiser.
A host of youngsters from the Hong Kong Society for the Protection of Children watched Hong Kong play Japan after earlier enjoying an HSBC ARFU Rugby Coaching Tour clinic at Hong Kong Football Club. Frank Hadden, the former Scotland coach, and the HSBC Penguin International Coaching Academy led the sessions after also coaching a host of local schools on Thursday with help from Japan coach John Kirwan, an HSBC rugby ambassador.
“One of the most rewarding elements of our sponsorship of the HSBC Asian 5 Nations is seeing the HSBC ARFU Rugby Coaching Tour bring top-level rugby to new audiences, helping increase their interest in the sport,” said Peter Wong, Chief Executive HSBC Asia-Pacific. "HSBC is delighted to continue its sponsorship of the HSBC Asian 5 Nations, which has already provided some very exciting rugby in the early matches and shows promise of another great year.”
HSBC renewed its title sponsorship of the Asian 5 Nations for another three years in January and furthered its investment in rugby in the region by announcing sponsorship of the new Asian Sevens Series later this year. Both competitions will be supported by the HSBC ARFU Rugby Coaching Tour, which will travel across Asia introducing children to the sport.
For more information on:
HSBC Asian 5 Nations/ARFU – Sean Moore, Tournament Operations Manager, Mob: +852 9095-8889, Email: email@example.com