It is advantage Malaysia and Sri Lanka in the race for the Asia Rugby Championship Division I title – and the chance to make further progress on the road to RWC 2019 – after opening wins over the United Arab Emirates and the Philippines respectively.

Jone Nasalo was the toast of the Malaysian team on Sunday after scoring a hat-trick of tries in a 36-22 win for the defending champions. Wong Wye Wye and Sakiusa Terence Gavidi added a try each in the final quarter as Malaysia posted five tries in total, four of whch were converted.

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With 18 places and the best part of seven points between the nations in the World Rugby Rankings at kick-off, no rating points were riding on the outcome. Ironically, though, Malaysia are now one place worse off, in 55th, while the vanquished UAE climb one place to 71st due to the results of matches featuring teams in and around them in the rankings.

SRI LANKA TOO STRONG FOR PHILIPPINES

In the earlier match at Ipoh Padang, Sri Lanka defeated the Philippines 24-13 after scoring two tries and kicking four penalties and one conversion.

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The Sri Lankans raced into an 11-0 half-time lead thanks to a try from Danuska Wijekoon Mudiyanselage and two penalties from the boot of Thilina Wijisingle Gurukandure Gedara.

The Filipinos finally got on the scoreboard when Kevin Gordon slotted a penalty on the hour mark. However, Sri Lanka responded with a 10-point burst after Gedara kicked his third penalty and then converted Richard Dhampala’s try to take the score to 21-3.

Back-to-back tries from Justin Coveney and Ricky Kucia put the Volcanoes within eight points of their opponents with five minutes left, but Mudiyanselage sealed it for Sri Lanka with a late penalty.

Sri Lanka move up two places in the rankings to 39th, leapfrogging Lithuania and Senegal in the process, while the Philippines stay unchanged in 57th despite losing just over half a point.

The Asia Rugby Championship Division I resumes on Wednesday, when early table-toppers Malaysia take on the Philippines and Sri Lanka play UAE.

JAPAN REMAIN ON TOP

Japan beat a battling Hong Kong 16-0 on Saturday to win the Asia Rugby Championship 2017.

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The victory – together with an earlier win over the same opponents in Tokyo and home-and-away victories over Korea – sees the Brave Blossoms finish their campaign with 19 points from a possible 20.

Japan have now been crowned Asian champions 25 out of a possible 30 times and this was their 10th straight title since the tournament became an annual event.

On a wet day at the Hong Kong Football Club, Amanaki Lotoahea scored the only try of the game early in the second half. Takuya Yamasawa added three penalties and a conversion.

Hong Kong and Korea will now battle it out to decide who finishes second.

STAGLON THE HAT-TRICK HERO FOR GUYANA

Inspired by a hat-trick from vice-captain Richard Staglon, 2016 Rugby Americas North Championship runners-up Guyana began this year’s campaign with a 34-21 win over Barbados.

Vallon Adams also bagged a brace and Ahmed Isaacs enjoyed a try-scoring debut for the ‘Green Machine’. Rickford Cummings landed two conversions.

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Guyana will now play host to long-time rivals Trinidad and Tobago at the National Park Rugby Field on 10 June, in a rematch of last year’s south zone final.

In the other tie to be played on Saturday, reigning champions Mexico proved too hot for a new-look Bermuda side to handle, winning 59-7.

Bermuda took the lead against the run of play through winger Corey Boyce, but the home side’s joy was short-lived as Las Serpientes helped themselves to five first-half tries to make it 33-7 at the break.

The one-sided nature of the contest continued in the second half as Mexico took the score past 50 with a further four tries.

Mexico move back into the world's top 50 ranked nations, on 46.61 points, after a gain of just under a point, while Guyana are up two places, to 53, to the detriment of Ivory Coast and Malaysia.

Bermuda drop two places to 72nd, but Barbados are the week's biggest fallers, slipping five places to 83rd. 

Photo: Asia Rugby Championship Division I: Asia Rugby/Tigers Super Sports Media