Japan on course for A5N Top 5 title

(RUGBY WORLD CUP) Sunday 28 April 2013
 
Japan on course for A5N Top 5 title
Hong Kong centre Stuart Megaw tries to tackle his counterpart Male Sa’u

A brave and spirited defensive effort from Hong Kong frustrated Japan but was not enough to thwart the Asian champions from registering a second consecutive victory in the HSBC Asian 5 Nations Top 5 competition at Hong Kong Football Club on 27 April.
 
Japan ran in six tries, four in the second half, to win 38-0 and keep their unbeaten record in this tournament – now in its sixth year – clean.

Meanwhile, in Al Ain, Korea overpowered United Arab Emirates 75-10. It now looks likely that either UAE or Philippines will be relegated from the Top 5 this year and with it ending their chances of Rugby World Cup 2015 qualification.

Step up for Japan
 
“It was a tough game, we expected it,” said Japan head coach Eddie Jones. “But what today’s performance showed was that we have a lot of work to do. This is after all only our second game this season.”
 
Hong Kong deserved a lot of credit for a gutsy defence that held Japan to just 14-0 at the break. And they didn’t let-up in the second half, reaching the hourly mark having only conceded a third try.
 
The high work-rate of Hong Kong back-row trio of Pale Tauti, Matt Lamming and Alex Baddeley, plus ironclad defence in midfield from centres Stewart Megaw and David Whiteford, with captain and full back Tom McColl leading the way proved a tough obstacle for Japan to overcome.
 
“It was a gutsy effort from the guys,” said Hong Kong captain McColl. “We knew Japan would come out and throw the ball around and we knew that we would have to defend our hearts out, and we did just that. I’m happy with our execution in defence but not so much with our attack.”
 
It was only in the last quarter that Japan was able to show their fluency with right wing and captain Toshiaki Hirose grabbing a brace in the space of four minutes before replacement wing Yoshikazu Fujita sealed the result with a try at the end.
 
The outcome of the battle between a team of professionals, Japan, and part-time players, Hong Kong, was never in doubt. But it was a shot in the arm for the home team who tackled their hearts out, putting in a massive 124 tackles to Japan’s 39.
 
“It was a courageous test of fortitude,” said Hong Kong head coach Leigh Jones. “One of the key areas was the breakdown and we managed to slow down their ball.”
 
Japan scored 18 tries in their opener against the Philippines a week ago but Hong Kong superbly shut them down and the lack of quality ball prevented the Brave Blossoms from playing the expansive game they wanted.
 
But Japan’s Jones was satisfied. He said: “This was the type of game we wanted. Last week we ran in a lot of tries against the Philippines we didn’t do as much today but even though our execution wasn’t flash, I thoroughly enjoyed this game. We still scored 38 points and scored six tries while not conceding any points. That is good enough for me.”

Korea impressive in their opener
 
The United Arab Emirates seem to be the team in danger of being relegated from the Top 5 this year after they lost their second successive match, going down 75-10 to Korea in Al Ain on Friday.
 
UAE will face Japan next week and then round off their campaign against the Philippines, a match which is likely to decide the team to carry the wooden spoon and be relegated into Division I next year thus making way for Sri Lanka in 2014.
 
It was an impressive start for Korea, runners up last year, who ran in 10 tries including four from wing Kim Kwong-min. Eleven of Korea’s squad feature in the Japan Top League and these professionals made a significant contribution as they overpowered UAE in all facets of the game.