Following Namibia’s qualification as Africa 1 last weekend, the Asia/Pacific 1 and Americas 2 slots will be decided in the coming weeks.
USA’s Rugby World Cup 2023 qualification journey takes them to Glendale, Colorado this Saturday when they take a one-point advantage into the second leg of their Americas 2 play-off with Chile.
The Eagles came away from Santiago with a 22-21 victory in the bag and knowing that a win or a draw would guarantee them a place alongside England, Japan, Argentina and Samoa in Pool D. Chile would need to win by two points or more to be certain of an aggregate win.
For Hong Kong, the wait to determine their Rugby World Cup 2023 qualification fate is a week longer.
Last Saturday’s 23-21 victory over hosts Korea in the final of the Asia Rugby Championship 2022 means they will now play Tonga in Queensland, Australia, on 23 July, for the right to go to the Rugby World Cup 2023 as Asia/Pacific 1.
The Asia/Pacific 1 qualifier will line up in Pool D with reigning world champions South Africa, the world’s number two ranked team Ireland, Scotland and Romania.
The loser of this tie and in the Americas 2 encounter will have one more chance to qualify for Rugby World Cup 2023 later this year, via the Final Qualification Tournament.
Portugal (Europe 3) and Kenya, the beaten finalists in last weekend’s Rugby Africa Cup 2022, have already secured their place in that tournament.
Going down to the wire
Both of last weekend’s Rugby World Cup qualifiers in Asia and the Americas were remarkable in their own right.
With a first Rugby World Cup 2023 qualification appearance the end goal, Hong Kong took to the field for the first time in very nearly three years in Incheon last Saturday and came away with an extraordinary win against their hosts.
Reduced to 14 men after only one minute following a red card to winger Charles Higson-Smith, Hong Kong built up a 15-0 half-time lead.
A penalty from vice-captain Glyn Hughes got the scoring underway before hooker Alex Post crashed over to make it 8-0 at the end of the first quarter.
Fellow winger Matt Worley scored soon after returning from his sin-bin as Hong Kong pressed on despite being down to 13 players at one point.
But galvanised by the break, Korea hit back with an inevitable response and tries from Choi Seong Dook and long-serving captain Kim Kwang Min, and a penalty and conversion from the boot of Jimyeong Oh meant the scores were level with 17 minutes to go.
Korea took the lead for the first time when Oh slotted his second penalty but Hong Kong weren’t done and responded with their third try through Nathan DeThierry.
Korea responded to the challenge brilliantly, coming back on their next play to force a penalty, which Oh turned into three points and a 21-20 lead.
With time nearly up Hong Kong were given one last opportunity to take the win and keep their Rugby World Cup dream alive when Korea collapsed a maul within kickable range.
Gregor McNeish stepped up and kept his cool to send the ball sailing through the posts.
It was some match and some introduction to test rugby for new Hong Kong head coach, Lewis Evans, who was immensely proud of his team’s effort.
“We did not make it easy for ourselves with some of our indiscipline issues but the result shows the character in this team,” said Evans.
“Going down a man after a minute, and leading at half-time shows the quality and belief that we have in this team and our performance in the last half shows the mental resilience we have developed over the past three years. I cannot say enough about the boys today, they were outstanding.”
They say you can’t play running rugby in wet conditions… 😮— Rugby World Cup (@rugbyworldcup) July 10, 2022
They were wrong.pic.twitter.com/uYRGW21jgi
Eagles hold slender advantage
The USA’s 21-20 win over Chile was no less extraordinary in a number of ways.
Continuous torrential rainfall throughout the day in Santiago left large pools of surface water on the Estadio Santa Laura Universidad SEK pitch, while the players also had to contend with a power outage which stopped play for several minutes midway through the second half.
Battling those tough conditions and a buoyant Chile meant it was never going to be a straightforward assignment for the USA, and so it proved.
After an early try from Christian Dyer, which AJ MacGinty converted, the Eagles could not find a way to add to their tally and it was a one-point game at half-time following a brace of penalties from Chilean full-back Santiago Videla.
A try from Joe Taufete’e five minutes after the restart gave the Eagles some more breathing space but then the match came alive with a try-of-the-season contender from Los Condores fly-half Rodrigo Fernández.
Fernández caught a kick on his own 22 and proceeded to weave his way downfield leaving what felt like the whole Eagles team in his wake for a sensational solo try.
The try went unconverted but Videla kicked a penalty not long after to hand Chile the lead for the first time.
Following the floodlight failure, play resumed and Kapeli Pifeleti, a replacement for Taufete’e at hooker, put the Eagles back in front with another mauled try.
Videla ensured Chile had the last word with a try in the 80th minute, leaving just one point between the teams and with everything still to play for.