Asian 5 Nations wins for Hong Kong and Japan
Japan kicked off their campaign to qualify for Rugby World Cup 2015 with a 99-10 victory over the Philippines in Laguna, but it is Hong Kong who top the Asian 5 Nations standings after making it two from two with a 41-10 defeat of Sri Lanka in Colombo on Saturday.
The Brave Blossoms are strong favourites to win a seventh successive title and secure the Asia 1 berth at England 2015 and got off to a flying start against the Philippines – a side they beat 121-0 in 2013 – with a try after only two minutes through Hendrik Tui.
Japan then found themselves in the unfamiliar position of having to come from behind after the Philippines scored their first points of the 2014 Top 5 through brothers Oliver and Matt Saunders, the latter intercepting to run in from 50 metres out.
Six tries followed to give Japan a 45-10 half-time lead with Tui, wing Yoshikazu Fujita (2), debutants Hayden Hopgood and Kotaro Matsushima, and full back Ayumu Goromaru all touching down, the latter converting four of them.
Size and strength advantage
Number 8 Hopgood got the scoreboard ticking over early in the second half and with the Philippines rarely getting their hands on the ball, Fujita and Matsushima also crossed the try-line for the Brave Blossoms.
The Japanese forwards had the advantage over their hosts in both size and strength and were rewarded with tries from replacement Yusuke Nagae, debutant Kyosuke Horie, Takeshi Kizu and Justin Ives as well as replacement scrum half Keisuke Uchida.
Goromaru finished the match with a personal haul of 29 points as Japan made it 25 bonus point victories from 25 in the Asian 5 Nations. The Japanese will welcome Sri Lanka to Nagoya next week before finishing up with matches against Korea away and Hong Kong in Tokyo.
Hong Kong had overwhelmed the Philippines 108-0 in their opener and looked set to run up another high score at the Race Course Ground after a dominant first-half performance saw them cross the Sri Lanka line four times to lead 29-0.
A combination of poor handling and an improved Sri Lankan performance though ensured the floodgates did not open, leaving Hong Kong coach Leigh Jones frustrated and knowing his side cannot afford to do the same against Korea next weekend.
“Our set piece won’t win us the game next week. It has got us out of trouble for the past two weeks but we need to raise our performance levels in a number of areas,” Jones warned.
Sri Lankan courage
Hong Kong’s heavier pack ruled the scrums and the lineouts to win plenty of ball, which they put to good use in the first half with tries from prop Leon Wei Hon-sum (2), full back Tom McColl and flanker Matt Lamming to wrap up the bonus point.
Captain Nick Hewson touched down soon after the break, but Sri Lanka battled hard, taking on and beating their opponents at the breakdown to restrict them to just one more try, through Alex McQueen. The biggest cheer was reserved for centre Danushka Ranjan’s try at the death.
“I’m very proud of my guys. They played their hearts out,” said Sri Lanka captain Namal Rajapaksa. “Unfortunately we couldn’t win the set pieces with their pack outweighing us by 100 kilos and we were left on the back foot defending.
“But we showed a lot of courage and showed that nothing is impossible. Just look at what Hong Kong did to the Philippines last week and if you consider that and the fact that we were playing against a more experienced team, I’m very happy with our performance.”
Hong Kong lead the standings with 12 points, six more than Japan and Korea who have played a match less. They now return home to face Korea in a must-win match for both sides in their bid to finish in the top two to keep their RWC 2015 hopes alive.