Monday, April 22, 2013

Japan & Hong Kong post opening wins in Week 1 of HSBC A5N Top 5


Japan set HSBC A5N record score versus Philippines, fourth highest points total ever in a Rugby World Cup qualifier

[Fukuoka, Japan, 20 April 2013]: Japan and Hong Kong recorded impressive opening wins on the first weekend of HSBC Asian Five Nations (HSBC A5N) Top 5 action. Japan set a new points scoring record with 18 tries and 121 points to nil against in their win over the Philippines on their Top 5 debut. In the day’s second match, Hong Kong posted a fitful 53-7 win over the United Arab Emirates at the Hong Kong Football Club.

Japan gave the Philippines a reminder that they were now in the big time Saturday as the five-time HSBC Asian 5 Nations champions ran in 18 tries in a 121-0 win to get their 2013 campaign off to a flying start.

Defying the conditions at a cold and wet Level 5 Stadium, the Brave Blossoms secured their 21st straight bonus-point win in the competition in a game that also served as a qualifier for the 2015 Rugby World Cup.

Thirteen different players touched down for the Brave Blossoms – including the four debutants – as Japan's power and speed proved too much for the Volcanoes.

“It was a good performance first up,” said Japan coach Eddie Jones. “But it's always difficult to tell given the quality of the opposition. We have been working on getting physically stronger and you saw a little of that today.”

The winning score was the biggest ever in the history of the tournament, the third highest score ever recorded by Japan and the fourth highest in a World Cup qualifier.

“Japan are the benchmark in Asian rugby and showed us what it takes to be at that level,” said Volcanoes coach Jarred Hodges. “They were too big, too strong and too fast.”

Hodges' team tackled bravely early on, and Japan had players held up over the line on two occasions in the first half. But it was only a matter of time before the floodgates opened.

The Volcanoes weren't helped by flyhalf Gareth Holgate missing a couple of simple shots at goal.

“We worked very hard for the first 30 minutes,” said Hodges. “But we missed a couple of kicks that could have made it 10-6. After that though Japan played to their strengths. They were a class above.”

Flanker Chris Hitch was tireless in a losing effort as the Philippines Volcanoes marked their HSBC A5N Top 5 debut in Japan

Japan ran in six tries in the first half to lead 43-0 at the break before doubling their effort in the second half.

Kenki Fukuoka was one of the debutants to score, the 20-year-old replacement wing touching down with each of his first two touches before turning supplier for another new cap Takuma Asahara.

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New Japan cap and local boy Kenki Fukuoka scored twice on his debut v the Philippines.

“He's got speed. He's got Bryan Habana pace,” Jones said of the University of Tsukuba student. “But that doesn't make him a test player. But as long as he keeps on learning and focuses on improving then he has the chance to be a very good player.”

Male Sa'u, like Fukuoka, also bagged a brace on debut, though Jones thought the centre could have had a few more.

“I thought he was very generous to his teammates. He has fitted in very well and gives us a different attacking ability at 13.”

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Japan fullback Ayumu Goromaru notched 31 points today with the boot as Japan set a A5N points record.

Japan head to Hong Kong next week looking to build on the win, while the Philippines have the week off to regroup.

“I can't fault the team’s effort,” said Volcanoes captain Michael Letts. “We will learn from that and I can tell you now we will be a completely different side for our next three games.”

The day’s second match between Hong Kong and UAE saw a disjointed effort which left Hong Kong captain Tom McColl and coach Leigh Jones both unhappy. But Hong Kong still accomplished the task at hand, which was to win their opening game in the Top Five.

Hong Kong ran in eight tries as they overcame a spirited UAE outfit 53-7. While the scoreline might look impressive, the performance was hardly one to write home about as the hosts struggled to put together a cohesive attack and had to mostly feed on the mistakes of their opponents.

“I’m happy with the win but our execution was not up to our standard,” said skipper McColl. “We didn’t get going until the last ten minutes of the game and I don’t want to put the blame fully on the conditions.”

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Captain Tom McColl (red) led Hong Kong to record their first win at today’s 2013 HSBC Asian Five Nations Top 5 campaign.
Credit-Andy Yeung

High humidity turned the ball into a piece of soap at the Hong Kong Football Club, resulting in an error-ridden display from both sides. Passes were spilled and the ball was constantly turned over by the Hong Kong forwards who couldn’t string together a number of phases.

Hong Kong led 27-7 at the break and continued to struggle to find their rhythm in the second half. It was only a late spurt, when three tries were scored in the closing ten minutes, that brought respectability to the scoreline.

“It was a disjointed effort from us but it was to be expected. We had a number of new guys playing in the A5N for the first time and we were missing our sevens players, those with the X-factor,” Jones said.

“I’m not happy at all with our performance but we have to give credit to UAE for their nuggety and tough defence which put us under a lot of pressure,” Jones added.

Yet, the task of winning the opening game was accomplished. It was crucial for Hong Kong to do so and take a giant step towards securing their place in next year’s Top Five which doubles as the direct World Cup qualifier for Asia.

With 12 of its sevens players not being considered for the opening two games – against UAE and Japan – Hong Kong didn’t want to be in a position of needing to win both their last two games against the Philippines and South Korea which sandwich the London Sevens on May 11-12.

A loss today at home would have necessitated a late call-up for the sevens squad members for the Philippines match in two weeks, followed by an overnight flight to London for the London Sevens.

Winger Jonny Rees and centre Stewart Megaw led the try-scoring stakes each with a brace while flanker Matt Lamming, fullback McColl, centre Ally Maclay and reserve scrumhalf Pete McKee also touched down. Flyhalf Chris McAdam knocked over an early penalty and a conversion before he had to leave the field with sore ribs. His place was ably filled by Niall Rowark who knocked over four more conversions.

UAE coach Duncan Hall admitted that the conditions had affected his players. “Our ball control was poor with the ball like a piece of soap. But we also overplayed a certain type of game (keeping it with the forwards) and under pressure we reverted to type.

“Hong Kong without their sevens players still did more than enough to win and it was disappointing, for we have come a long way in the last few months. It shows we still have a lot of work to do,” Hall added.

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United Arab Emirates (black) were kept at bay by Hong Kong.
Credit-Andy Yeong

UAE’s points came from stand-in skipper and No. 8 Brett Williams who scored a try from a lineout close to the Hong Kong tryline. The forwards, who at times seemed to outplay their counterparts, drove strongly to allow Williams to plant the solitary try. Flyhalf James Ham added the extra points.

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