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Japan Beats Hong Kong to Win Asian Rugby Sevens Series in Borneo

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Japan beat Hong Kong 38-14 in the final of the Asian Rugby Sevens Series event held this past weekend in Sabah, Malaysian Borneo.

 Japan was the form side of the tournament from the opening kickoff, posting 187 points while conceding just four tries and 26 points over two tournament days and six matches.

In the Cup semifinals, Japan edged Korea 10-7 in a tight encounter that was entirely fitting for these two Cup finalists from the Shanghai Sevens in September. This time Japan emerged victorious despite being a man down deep into injury time.

Hong Kong hobbled through to the final after a series of injuries kept much of its star power on the bench over the two tournament days. Despite the injury woes, it was a recovery story that dominated Hong Kong’s semifinal against Malaysia.

 On his return from a long absence rehabilitating a shoulder injury former captain Mark Wright led from the front against the hometown team, seemingly willing Hong Kong to victory to the dismay of the 3,500 thousand strong crowd.

Wright tallied two tries and set up a third in the match to help steer Hong Kong out of trouble against a talented Malaysian that looks to be a contender in Asian sevens in the years ahead. Hong Kong advanced in a seesaw match over Malaysia, 22-17.

Japan’s dominance extended into the final as Hong Kong started to show the toll of its cumulative injuries with several players taking the pitch heavily strapped. The Brave Blossoms jumped out to a 7-0 lead in the first two minutes through a long ranging try to Michio Iwa.

Hong Kong’s Keith Robertson, who was playing despite a rib injury, replied in the fifth minute with an audacious up and under, catching his own ball at the 10 metres before dragging a defender over the line for Hong Kong’s only try of the first half. The successful conversion brought the score to 7-all.

Hong Kong’s defence almost held for the remainder of the half before a crucial knock on by captain Jeff Wong on his own five metre line gave an opportunity for Kenji Shomen to dive over from the ensuing scrum, bringing the score to 12-7 at halftime.

In the second half, Japan put paid to Hong Kong’s hopes for a comeback with two tries in the first two minutes to Usaku Kuwazuru and Atsushi Tujiya bringing the score to 26-7. The third Japanese try came in the fifth minute to Japan’s Michio Iwa, giving him a brace for the final, and bringing the score to 31-7. In the seventh minute, Kensuke Iwabuchi finished Japan’s scoring with a try that was converted to bring the score to 38-7.

Hong Kong winger Salom Yiu Kam Shing added a last bright moment for the losing finalists with a 60m sprint that he converted himself to bring Hong Kong to 14 points. The whistle blew a moment later ending the match at 38-14 and giving Japan its first title on the new Asian Rugby Sevens Series.

 In the Bronze Medal (3rd/4th place) match, Korea surpassed a tired Malaysian side 31-7.

Japan’s win sees them clear to the top of the Asian Rugby Sevens Series with 23 points, one ahead of Korea and two in front of Hong Kong.

The Plate final pitted China against an unexpected Philippines team that entered the tournament ranked 10th and was competing in just their second Asian Rugby Sevens Series event after last week’s run in Brunei.

The Philippines’ had formed a habit of unseating favoured opponents over the weekend, ushering Chinese Taipei into the Bowl competition on day one and beating the Thais to reach the Plate. But the run ended in the Final as a comprehensive display by China saw the favourites romp home 31-0. China finished in fifth place overall in the Borneo Sevens and in fourth spot on the Series table with 16 points.

In the Bowl final Chinese Taipei took its revenge for a weekend of injury setbacks and disappointing results to beat India 19-0. Chinese Taipei finished 9th overall and will be ruing missed opportunities after entering the tournament as fourth seed and in fourth place on the Asian Rugby Sevens Series table. After the weekend’s results, Chinese Taipei slipped to fifth place on the table with 13 points.

Another surprise package this weekend was Guam in its debut Asian Rugby Sevens Series event. After running Korea close in the opening day and consistently scoring against Hong Kong throughout the weekend, Guam took its chances well to upend a favoured Thailand 24-7 in the 7th/8th place playoff. Their performance in Borneo was good enough to elevate Guam to sixth place on the Series standings.

In the Bowl Semifinal Chinese Taipei beat Indonesia 40-0 while India beat Brunei 19-10. Brunei then beat Indonesia 26-7 to finish in 11th place with Indonesia rounding out the 12 Asian teams in the final spot. Brunei and Indonesia charted two and one points on the Series table respectively.

The Borneo Sevens is the last of two ranking events on the inaugural Asian Rugby Sevens Series. The final table rankings will be effective for the remainder of 2009 and will be used for ARFU competitions, multi-sport games and IRB World Sevens Series events when applicable.

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