[Hong Kong, 22 April 2023]: The Hong Kong Rugby Union men’s and women’s sevens squads have completed the first of two HSBC World Rugby Sevens Challenger Series events. The men won bronze after losing in the semi-final to Tonga, while the women finished ninth but have now won their last three matches on the trot.
It was a disappointing semi-final for Hong Kong against eventual champions Tonga. The team failed to find the complete performance it had been in search of throughout the competition and bowed out on a flat note after conceding five tries in a 33-0 loss and being shut out for the first time in the competition.
Hong Kong also made hard work of the Bronze medal match against Belgium, which went deep into extra time with both sides drawn 21-all at the end of regulation.
Belgium drew first blood after two minutes, before James Christie scored a brace of tries to put Hong Kong up 14-7 at half-time. Belgium levelled again in the second half before Max Denmark was able to find space out wide for a 70-metre sprint and score that gave Hong Kong back the lead 21-14 with two minutes remaining, but Hong Kong conceded a late score to Belgium to tie it up at regulation.
The teams then played a whistle-marred period of extra-time without result, but it was Denmark again who came up with the crucial score in the opening minute of the second period of extra time with another breakaway score for the 26-21 win.
That win will be crucial to keep Hong Kong’s hopes of advancing to the final stages of HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series qualification in May alive, but Hong Kong will need to move up the podium in next weekends’ Series finale.
“We are disappointed in our performance this weekend,” said Hong Kong men’s coach Jevon Groves.
“We were outplayed by Tonga. We couldn’t control possession and we missed our tackles. We started poorly and we couldn’t make it up against them. Mostly, we are disappointed because we felt well prepared in terms of what we expected Tonga to do, but we just failed to stop it.
“After Tonga there was some tough reflection for the group and then going into another tough game against Belgium suffering from that loss a bit and probably lacking some confidence. But I was pleased to come out of it with the win in extra time, and with the way that we managed that occasion.
“We have given ourselves a sliver of hope now. It’s been done before in this competition with a third place and a first place good for a series win, but now we have to rely on other teams.
“Ultimately, it is up to us to address the issue of our performance. Next week, we have a second chance to put things right and put in a performance we can proud of, and that is what it is all about at this level,” added Groves.
The women’s match against Mexico was an entertaining affair. Co-captain Natasha Olson-Thorne was once again instrumental, scoring the team’s first try within 30 seconds of kick-off for a 5-nil lead. It would be her first of two scores in the match, and she also turned up a try-saving tackle in the final seconds of the first period.
Mexico responded positively, building a sustained attack, an effort that was aided by a Hong Kong yellow card for a high tackle. Mexico used the extra space out wide to produce a try from deep in their own half, which they converted for a 7-5 lead.
A Rosie Wright line break from the re-start produced a try for Georgia Rivers in the corner as Hong Kong pushed back ahead 10-7. Olson-Thorne’s Exocet missile tackle and recovery of the ball saved a certain score and kept the momentum with Hong Kong at the break.
The second half produced five minutes of end-to-end action, but neither team could convert their attacks into points. Hong Kong played much of the early stages in its own half, controlling ball but not territory, but they remained cool under pressure.
It was a different story for Mexico, who made a forward pass metres out from their own try-line under Hong Kong pressure. A simple outside move from the resulting scrum was made special by a beautifully-timed inside ball from Nam Ka-man. Her offload was collected by the omnipresent Olson-Thorne who put the game out of reach at 15-7 with her second try. Mexico closed the gap to 15-12 as time expired.
The win saw Hong Kong finish ninth in the opening Challenger Series event, but the important results are coming at another level for Hong Kong head sevens coach Paul John.
“The girls have shown a lot of spirit by winning their last three games. As a team, they have shown more confidence in every match, and our defence has improved game-by-game. We built well off of our performance yesterday.”
South Africa beat Belgium 17-10 in the women’s final, while Tonga beat Germany 26-14 in the men’s final to take the early lead in the two-tournament race.
The Hong Kong, China sevens teams will now have a week to reset for the final HSBC World Rugby Sevens Challenger Series competition at the same venue next weekend (28-30 April).