Japan lay down Olympic marker with Asian Games Gold defence


Japan won the men’s gold medal at the Asian Games rugby sevens competition defeating arch-rivals Hong Kong 24-12 in a gripping final on Thursday.

It was the second successive time the two rivals had met in the Asian Games final and the result was the same with Japan running out victors although Hong Kong pushed them to the limit once again.

“This win means a lot to us. Only one team from Asia will be going to the Rio Olympics, and we have put down a marker,” said Japan’s 15s captain Michael Leitch who was called up for duty to retain the sevens title.

Hong Kong entered the Asian Games having won both opening legs at the ARFU Asian Sevens Series but couldn’t quite find the winning formula against a Japanese outfit beefed up with Top League players including Leitch who scored one of the four tries for Japan in the final.

Hong Kong veteran Rowan Varty had given first blood to his team when he cut through the defence to score the first try of the match after both teams had spent the first five minutes going hammer and tongs at each other.

Japan equalized through Leitch who bulldozed his way over from close range, but he was sin-binned seconds later for a dangerous tackle. Hong Kong failed to take advantage, however, as a superb Japanese defence kept them out.

With the hooter having gone for halftime, Hong Kong opted to keep the ball alive with a quick tap and they paid for it when the ball was turned over and Japan punted it downfield.

In the chase for the ball, Hong Kong winger Tom McQueen was penalized for obstruction and a penalty try was awarded to Japan.

Hong Kong came back after the break when sub Salom Yiu Kam-shing scored soon after coming on but tries from Lomano Lemeki and Kazushi Hano saw Japan finish strongly.

“A silver medal is a great achievement but it is still a disappointment as we had come here to win the gold,” said Hong Kong skipper Jamie Hood.

Hong Kong had to fight hard to enter the final needing to get past South Korea in the semi-finals and winning a closely fought contest 15-7.

Korea led 7-5 at the break with a try from winger Jeong Yeon-sik cancelling out Hong Kong’s opening try of the match, which came in the fifth minute by winger Varty who rounded his opposite number to score.

But with the skies opening up over the impressive Namdong rugby stadium, the orders were clear from Hong Kong coach Gareth Baber – keep play inside the opponent’s 22 – and Hong Kong carried it out perfectly as they encamped inside Korean territory and kept play tight. The pressure paid dividends with tries to Tom McQueen and skipper Jamie Hood.

Japan had it easier in the other semi-final as they breezed to a 40-0 win over Sri Lanka with star player Lomano Lemeki grabbing a hat-trick.

Once winger Kazushi Hano had touched down for the first try, it seemed Sri Lanka had set their minds on the bronze medal match as Japan had it all their own way running in five more tries to book their berth in the final.

South Korea went on to win the bronze medal defeating a spirited Sri Lanka 17-14 in a tense game.

The women’s final was equally enthralling as China held off a late surge from Japan to win 14-12 and claim the Gold medal that eluded them at home in 2010.

Japanese sub Yoko Suzuki scored a try right at the death but it was overturned by the referee for a forward pass and Japan had to settle for the silver, their first medal in Asian Games women’s rugby competition.

Kazakhstan won the bronze medal defeating Hong Kong 12-0, who had beaten them in the group stages.

“We turned over too much ball and you can’t win a game unless you have possession,” said a disappointed Rose Fong, one of the stalwarts of the Hong Kong side.

China had earlier run in four tries past Kazakhstan to book their finals berth with a 24-12 victory while Japan warded off a spirited Hong Kong side winning the other semi-final 17-10 after leading 7-0 at the break.

In the men’s competition, the Philippines beat China 28-21 to claim fifth place, while Thailand edged Chinese Taipei 12-10 for seventh place. Malaysia took ninth place after beating Lebanon 35-5 while Pakistan nipped Kingdom of Saudi Arabia into the 11th spot with a 12-7 win over the rugby debutants.

Thailand beat Singapore 38-7 to take fifth place in the women’s competition, with Uzbekistan edging Malaysia 12-5 to claim the seventh spot overall. Hosts South Korea beat Laos 34-0 to take ninth in the ten team women’s competition.