Korea returns to Top 5 rugby
By John Redmond
HONG KONG ― Hong Kong blitzed Kazakhstan 55-0 to claim third place in the 2012 HSBC Asian Five Nations (HSBC A5N) Top Five competition on May 26. In the weekend’s opening match in Seoul, Korea cemented its return to Top 5 rugby by sealing second place in the final standings beating the United Arab Emirates 47-21.
It was Hong Kong’s first international in 13 years at the newly renovated Mong Kok Stadium in the heartland of Kowloon and the home team celebrated with a seven-try rout of Kazakhstan who will be relegated to Division One next season after finishing their campaign winless.
“It was a great occasion and a great turnout from our rugby fans and local community,” said Hong Kong RFU Head of Performance Dai Rees. “And it was good to see the team respond with a sound performance under very trying conditions.”
Heavy rain hours before the encounter made conditions underfoot heavy. The high humidity also sapped the energy of both teams, but Hong Kong handled it better as they ran in seven tries, including a penalty try, to register their third win of the tournament.
Losses to unbeaten Japan and a last minute loss to South Korea earlier in the campaign put paid to Hong Kong’s hopes of repeating as the second ranked team in Asia for a second consecutive HSBC A5N season.
“We always knew once we lost to Korea (21-19) that it would be hard to retain our second spot,” said Hong Kong senior coach Leigh Jones. “But our ultimate aim is to remain in the Top Five, especially when the 2015 Rugby World Cup qualifiers come around and we have done enough to stay in contention again next year.”
Hong Kong flyhalf Mike Glancy had a fantastic day with the boot, knocking over two penalties and seven conversions to collect 20 points. Centre Ally Maclay grabbed a brace of tries, either side of halftime, with the others scored by Lee Jones, Charles French, Nick Hewson and Rowan Varty.
Hong Kong led 27-0 at the break with Kazakhstan playing the last 16 minutes of the first half with 13 men ― two players being banished to the sin-bin for infractions, second-row Anton Makarenko and flyhalf Daulet Akymbekov. This didn’t help the cause of the visitors who struggled in the debilitating humidity.
Glancy, who knocked over all three conversions, was also on target with two penalties to give Hong Kong a comfortable 27-0 at halftime. His touch didn’t desert him in the second half as he kept his unblemished record intact.
Hong Kong and Japan are now the only teams to have maintained a steady Top 5 presence in each year of the competition. The Philippines, winners of the HSBC A5N Division I competition, will replace Kazakhstan, becoming the eighth Top 5 team since 2008.
In Seoul, a brave UAE team turned in their most complete performance of this year’s HSBC Asian 5 Nations, running South Korea close for 60 minutes before fading in the last quarter. Korea eventually proved too much for the visitors, winning 47-21, for their third victory of the tournament, (their only loss coming to undefeated Japan). The result sees them return to their customary second placed ranking in Asia.
Credit to the UAE for throwing everything at their opponents as they dominated the early stages. UAE vice-captain and sevens captain Tim Fletcher scored the match’s opening try, which was converted by flyhalf Murray Strang to give UAE a 7-0 lead. Fletcher, who was moved from fullback into the centers by UAE coach Duncan Hall this week to add more bite to the offence, added a second try in the second half.
The Koreans replied immediately through flanker Lee Kwang Moon, with the conversion from Oh Youn Hyun leveling the score at 7-7l. Towering lock forward You Young Nam then edged the hosts out in front for the first time with a well-worked try, which was again converted by Oh to put Korea ahead 14-7. But UAE replied, this time through fleet-footed fullback Imad Reyal whose jinking try pulled UAE level after Strang’s conversion at 14-14l going into halftime.
Korea started the second half in a frenzy as they looked to inject more pace into the play. They capitalized on a UAE error from a deep re-start with a rolling maul finished off by hooker Shin Young Jun who piled over from short range. Oh’s third conversion of the day was successful putting Korea ahead 21-14. Fletcher’s second try came quick on the heels of Shin’s tally. Strang’s conversion was good and the scores were level again at 21 with 30 minutes remaining.
The UAE pack began to show signs of cracking under Korea’s sustained attacks. Lee Kwang-moon sold a great dummy to put winger Cho In-soo in the clear for Korea’s fourth try of the match and secured the bonus point. Oh’s conversion was successful and Korea held a 26-21 lead. The Koreans never looked back, scoring shortly thereafter through scrumhalf Yang Youn-han to pull ahead at 33-21 after Oh continued his perfect day with the boot.
Two more Korean tries from captain Youn Kwon-woo and reserve winger Jegal Bin, his the result of a length of the pitch dash, put Korea in the clear at 47-21. The result left a nervous UAE waiting for the results from Hong Kong as a bonus point win would have been enough to leave Kazakhstan ahead of the UAE and send the desert warriors packing to Division I next season.
But Hong Kong’s emphatic win saw them take third place on the table with 13 points, behind Korea on 17 points and Japan on a perfect 24 points from four wins and four bonus points. UAE complete this year’s HSBC Asian 5 Nations Top 5 with six points, while Kazakhstan end winless with one bonus point to show from their campaign.
About HSBC and Rugby
HSBC is a long-term investor in Rugby in Asia and around the world. As well as being the title sponsor of the Sevens World Series, Asian 5 Nations and Asian Sevens Series, the bank is co-title sponsor of the Hong Kong Sevens from 2012. HSBC is the Principal Partner of all the Hong Kong rugby teams, and the British & Irish Lions, who will play in Hong Kong in 2013 en route to Australia. The bank is also the title sponsor of the Waratahs Super 15 team in Australia, the Penguin International Coaching Academy and the Cobra 10s tournament in Malaysia.