Hong Kong Rugby Union
[Hong Kong, 24 February 2020]: An understrength Hong Kong side battled its way to the bronze medal at the World Rugby HSBC Sevens Challenger Series finale in Montevideo, Uruguay yesterday to finish as runners-up in the inaugural Series.
After day one niggles worsened, Hong Kong began the morning down to 11 men with Liam Herbert ruled out ahead of play.
Scrumhalf Jamie Hood put a balky back on the line to score an important try in the quarterfinal against Italy as Hong Kong squeaked by 17-14 after Hood’s tally came with three seconds left on the clock. That effort would be Hood’s last of the day, leaving Hong Kong with ten men ahead of the semi-final against the hosts Uruguay, who were on a mission to perform in front of their sparse but dedicated support.
Congratulations to @HongKongRugby in another top 3 finish in the HSBC Challenger Series, Finishing 2rd based on overall point behind Japan, both Asian teams advancing to a third and final qualification event later this year pic.twitter.com/Vv6pWY4vGt
— Asia Rugby (@asiarugby) February 24, 2020
Uruguay upended Hong Kong 12-0 with two first half tries and a frenetic defensive effort that was effective in derailing the opening round cup finalists. Hong Kong had its chances, particularly at the end of the opening half, but Uruguay held out for a tight win.
After finishing in 9th place last weekend in Chile, Uruguay reached the cup final at home, losing to Japan in two added-time periods 5-0.
Japan’s win, combined with its third placed finish in Chile gave them the Series silverware, two points ahead of Hong Kong who finished in second and third respectively across the two legs.
Hong Kong coach Paul John was disappointed with the Uruguay match but hailed the efforts of his players in their South American tour.
“It has been a very, very tough tour with two tournaments back to back and 40 hours of travel to get here,” said John.
“We picked up a few injuries in the past two days, with Liam not playing at all today and Jamie not able to go after the opening game. We didn’t want to risk anyone else in terms of worsening those injuries. Even down to ten men the boys are disappointed with the Uruguay game.
“We didn’t help ourselves very much. They strangled us and didn’t allow us to play our game and we didn’t show the same line speed to get to the breakdown we had earlier in the tournament.
“Uruguay were excellent in the contact area. In sevens, you have to get it absolutely right and we didn’t. We had some really good chances, with two or three scoring opportunities at the end of the half but we blew them in the final phase of possession. That changed the momentum of the game.”
John was pleased with the way his charges picked themselves up after the semi-final to hold on for a 12-7 win over Chile in the bronze medal match.
“That was an important game for us. We had gone well on day one and all the way through to the semi-final when we lost. At times, we have struggled to get back up in those positions. The 10 fit boys we did have were excellent with guys like Max [captain Max Woodward] and Russ [fly half Russell Webb] playing nearly every minute of every game on this tour.”
“It can be difficult to manage the second weekend in a swing like this. There is a temptation to over-train or to train more after the opening leg but you may need to train less. We only trained twice this week to focus on our recovery and getting ready.”
The challenge of back-to-back tournaments is one that John and Hong Kong are hoping they will need to become accustomed to next season on the World Rugby HSBC Sevens Series.
Hong Kong is still very much in contention for that spot, now owning the second seed for the third and final qualification event.
Given the rescheduling of the Cathay Pacific/HSBC Hong Kong Sevens to 16-18 October, the final venue and dates for the qualifier is yet to be confirmed, so next steps remain unclear for John and Hong Kong.
“There are a lot of bruised and battered bodies and we leave on Monday but don’t get home until Thursday, so I hope that we can have a week off at least,” said John from South America
Hong Kong Sevens (Touring Squad): World Rugby Sevens Challenger Series: Max WOODWARD (captain)*; Ben RIMENE; Raef MORRISON*; Michael COVERDALE; Hugo STILES*; Cado LEE Ka-to*; Jamie HOOD*; Jack NEVILLE; Alex McQUEEN; Liam HERBERT*; Russell WEBB*; Max DENMARK*; Sebastian BRIEN*; YIU Kam-shing*; Kane BOUCAUT*; Toby FENN*.
* Selection for Montevideo, Uruguay