Thailand still in RWC qualifying hunt
Thailand will face India in the next stage of Rugby World Cup 2015 qualifying in Asia after they edged out Malaysia 22-19 to claim this year’s HSBC Asian 5 Nations (A5N) Division II crown.
The winner of that one-off match will join the HSBC A5N Division I and stay in the hunt for RWC 2015 qualification.
Thailand hung tough in a tight wire match against Malaysia in the HSBC A5N Division II final today in Kuala Lumpur, winning 22-19. China was relegated to Division III for 2013 after a 52-3 loss to Iran in today’s Division II 3rd/4th place play-off.
Despite having a man advantage for most of the second half after a Malaysian red card, the Thais were unable to close out the game against a gritty Malaysian team that pushed the visitors to the limit until the final whistle.
Today’s A5N Division II final was a tight encounter throughout with neither team able to enjoy a comfortable lead. Malaysia was the first team on the scoreboard today with a penalty in the 5th minute from fullback Zulkifli Azmi.
Thailand replied in the 11th minute with a penalty from star fullback Walongkorn Khamkoet to level the scores. Four minutes later Khamkoet put Thailand further out at 6-3. Shortly thereafter, Malaysian wing Dinesvaran Krisnan was sin-binned, giving Khamkoet the opportunity to slot his third penalty as Thailand took a 9-3 lead.
The kicking battle continued as Zulkifli converted his second penalty attempt to edge Malaysia close at 9-6. A Thai sin-bin soon leveled the numbers on both sides, but it was Thailand that scored next through Khamkoet’s fourth and final penalty of the half, taking the score to 12-6 at the break.
Unfortunately for Malaysia, flanker Kini Rasolosolo had a moment of insanity as he lost his cool and punched his opponent, earning a red card and leaving his side to play a man down for the entire second half. The sending off may well have lost Malaysia the match as the hosts at full strength would likely have been too much for the visitors to handle.
Even with the numbers disadvantage, Malaysia came back from halftime firing on all cylinders. The hosts got a break shortly after the start of the second half as Thai hooker Jayasevi was sin-binned, leveling the sides for ten minutes. Malaysian flyhalf Timoci Nocakula immediately punished the Thais for the sin-bin as he scored from a tap and run penalty to pull his team into the lead 13-12 after Zulkifli’s conversion.
Malaysia coach Boon Hoon Chee’s strategic adjustments at halftime seemed to be paying dividends as Malaysia focussed on maximizing their size advantage by keeping the ball in close to their forward pack, frustrating the Thais who were intent on stretching the undermanned Malay defence.
Malaysia’s forward pressure soon told as Thailand conceded a sitter penalty on their 22, which Zulkifli slotted to push Malaysia out at 16-12 after 48 minutes. But Malaysia then conceded a penalty that was nailed by Khamkoet from 35 metres to bring them nearly level at 16-15, with 20 minutes remaining.
Malaysia go close
The final quarter of the Division II final was a tense and exciting affair. At one point, Thai indiscipline saw a difficult penalty kick advanced ten metres into kickable territory after the Thais were penalized for backchat. Zulkifli converted the shorter kick as Malaysia took a 19-15 lead.
With ten minutes remaining, all Malaysia had to do was to control the ball and maintain calm under pressure but the Thais had other plans. A well-weighted kick ahead from a Thai offensive move put Malaysia’s cover defence under real pressure. A hasty clearance kick was beautifully charged down by Thai winger Wongsalankarn, who followed through on his solo effort to touch down before the ball crossed the dead ball line for Thailand’s first try of the match. Khamkoet slotted the conversion to put Thailand ahead 22-19 with less than ten minutes remaining.
The Malaysians lifted themselves again, working the ball into Thai territory and forcing what seemed like a sitter penalty just outside the 22-metre line. But Zulkifli’s boot deserted him at the worst possible moment and he shanked a kick that would have drawn his team level and forced extra-time.
The desperate Malaysians again put forward a heroic effort, eventually winning a scrum on Thailand’s five-metre line. The Malaysians rolled off the back using their bigger backline to try for a pushover try from close range, but the ball was held up. Another penalty conceded by Thailand on the last play of the match saw Malaysia go for the tap and run but they knocked on over the line. The resulting scrum saw Malaysia concede a penalty, which the Thais kicked into touch to close out a thrilling encounter.
Thai captain Tanyavit Kuasint commented on the rollercoaster win saying, “We were concerned because we were playing Malaysia at home and they always have strong support. They are bigger than us and we knew that we would have to play smarter today, especially after playing another big team in Iran in the semi final.
“Khamkoet came up huge again and the whole team was very cool under pressure. At halftime with the man advantage we knew we would have to stay calm and just take what was in front of us. Malaysia is a great team and they have many skillful players but in the end we came here to win a chance to qualify for the Rugby World Cup and I knew that even though we were giving up a lot of size that our heart is bigger than the other teams and that if we play as a team we can beat anyone,” said the delighted captain.
As this week’s HSBC A5N Division II and III are doubling as Asian qualifiers for Rugby World Cup 2015, Thailand will now progress to a one-off match against Division III champions India later this summer in Thailand. The winner will be promoted to Division I next season and continue their march along the road to Rugby World Cup 2015. Next year’s Asian qualifiers for RWC 2015 will be the Division I and Top 5 competitions of the A5N.
Looking ahead to the Division I / Rugby World Cup 2015 play-off, Kuasint said, “If we can make it to Division I it will be the first time for us since 2009 and it will be a great experience for Thailand, but we can’t get ahead of ourselves. We will host the play-off and I think our support will be a key to helping us win and continue our Rugby World Cup qualification,” added Kuasint.
Iran outclass China
In the third place play-off a disappointed Iran team made up for an earlier loss against Thailand with a convincing 52-3 win over China. The result was never in doubt as Iran took China’s first scrum against the head in the opening moments and continued to exert their dominance throughout the match.
Iran’s first try came in the 12th minute after a long period of sustained pressure as prop Anoghin Rozbeh drove the ball from the back of the maul over the line. The try was converted by flyhalf Amin Hosseinzadeh to set Iran off to the races.
Iran’s second try came through the loosehead prop Hassan Nowzad in the 28th minute with a second conversion from Hosseinzadeh. Iran truly began hitting their straps then, taking the ball straight from the re-start through the middle of China’s defence for a third try in the first half, this one finished off nicely by centre Naser Eslamimanesh.
Moments later, the Iran front row completed a hat trick of sorts as hooker Asmer Rasoul scored, giving each of the front row a try in the first half – a great effort from the heroes of the coalface. A third conversion from Hosseinzadeh saw the score reach 28-0 at halftime.
Iran ran in four more tries after the break while China could only muster a single penalty from scrumhalf Zhan Xi Chun to bring the final score to 52-3 Iran. It is the second year that Iran have managed to remain in Division II rugby, while China will be relegated back to Division III (which they won last year in Jakarta) for next season.