Champions Hong Kong on the rise in rankings
Hong Kong’s reward for winning the inaugural Emirates Airline Cup of Nations is a three-place rise to 26th in the latest IRB World Rankings, their highest ever position since the rankings were introduced in October 2003.
A 37-3 victory over Brazil at 7he Sevens in Dubai on Friday saw Hong Kong claim the title with an unbeaten record, having already overwhelmed the United Arab Emirates 77-14 and Kenya 44-17 in the seven-day tournament.
Hong Kong’s victory over UAE had no impact on the IRB World Rankings as the tournament hosts are not yet a Member Union of the International Rugby Board, but the other two wins lifted the Asian side above Morocco, Moldova and Poland to better their previous best ranking of 27th.
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Only a converted try had separated the two sides at half-time, but Alex McQueen completed his hat-trick in the second half as for the second match in a row Hong Kong stamped their authority and pulled away from their lower ranked opponents.
Brazil swapped places with Zimbabwe below them to end the year in 34th, having fallen four places in the tournament on the back of losses to Hong Kong and Kenya, the latter after conceding a last minute try to lose 27-25 on day one.
Kenya’s defeat to Hong Kong also proved costly with the African champions falling four places back to 39th, the position that had begun the tournament in before climbing above Sweden, Germany, Czech Republic and Tunisia by beating Brazil.
Hong Kong coach Dai Rees had nothing but praise for the tournament after seeing his players realise the goal of claiming “an early Christmas present” by winning the title.
“The new tournament has been an outstanding initiative between Hong Kong and UAE and to bring the likes of Kenya and Brazil into the tournament for us teams in Asia has been a fantastic initiative and hopefully it is the first of many,” said Rees.
“As a national squad we have toured in Europe the last two years, in the snow and wet and cold which meant one match against the Netherlands was cancelled, so to play in wonderful conditions in Dubai and to bring other teams from other continents we would probably never play otherwise has been a great initiative, everyone has benefitted enormously.
“We have learnt a lot of lessons. We did have a convincing win in the opening game which we didn't expect against UAE, but certainly Kenya and Brazil proved tough opposition. We were losing at half-time against Kenya and we had to show a lot of composure and again in the final (match), only 10-3 up at half-time we had a lot of work to do.”
The Emirates Airline Cup of Nations marks the final Test matches of 2011, so the IRB World Rankings will remain unchanged until February when the RBS Six Nations and European Nations Cup kick-start what will be another busy year on the international stage.