Japan win Asian Sevens event in Malaysia
Japan drew first blood in the 2013 HSBC Asian Rugby Sevens Series when they held on to register a tense 14-10 victory over Hong Kong in the Malaysia Sevens Cup final on Sunday.
The Japanese scored a breakaway try with inspirational debutant Lomano Lemeki finding the crucial gap with the seconds counting down against their rivals, who had narrowly beaten them to the Asian Series title last year.
Hong Kong was reduced to six men at the end after Jamie Hood was shown a yellow card for a deliberate knock-on. His absence proved crucial as he was the missing link in an attacking Hong Kong lineout, allowing Japan to turnover possession for Lemeki to break through.
“Our fitness proved the difference in the end,” said jubilant Japan captain Lote Tuqiri. “We had a strong defence and despite fielding a young team, the guys all stood up and were counted.”
Coach Tomohiro Segawa added: “It was a very tight final and to beat a great team like Hong Kong means a lot to us, especially with it being the first tournament of the season. We just played simple rugby and managed to get just a slight edge in the match.
“It is a great feeling to defend our title in Malaysia again this year. We have a young team competing this season who are lacking in experience. This win will definitely be a confidence booster for them in the next leg.”
Lemeki provided the cutting edge for Japan. A brilliant offload despite the attention of two defenders led to Japan’s first try. Hong Kong struck back either side of the break with tries from Tom McQueen and Ben Rimene before Japan pulled the rug from under their feet in the dying seconds.
“This is the same old story,” said Hong Kong coach Alex Gibbs. “We have been in this same situation – down to six men and losing at the death – against Japan on too many occasions in the past.
“But the positives are that we blooded a number of new faces and this will bode well for the future. Our goal was to reach the final and we have done that.”
Hong Kong fielded a relatively inexperienced team at the first leg of the Asian Sevens Series with the bulk of the main squad on duty at the China National Games in Shenyang, where Sevens is making its debut.
To reach the final, Hong Kong had overcome Chinese Taipei (26-7) and Sri Lanka (29-12), the latter match coming after a thunderstorm had suspended play for more than an hour and left the Petaling Jaya Stadium pitch waterlogged. Japan, meanwhile, battled past Thailand (49-0) and then Korea (15-7).
Sri Lanka bounced back to beat Korea 15-10 in sudden death extra-time to finish third, while hosts Malaysia claimed the Plate after beating Thailand 10-0. The seventh place play-off did not take place so Chinese Taipei and the Philippines shared the series points, while Kazakhstan beat Singapore 15-0 in the Bowl final and China beat UAE 41-0 to finish 11th.
The second leg of the Asian Rugby Sevens Series takes place in Bangkok, Thailand, on 21-22 September.
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