Thailand were confirmed as Asia’s U20 sevens champions after winning a three games series against Hong Kong on Saturday (13th August); and news about the Asia/Oceania World Cup qualification process has been revealed.
Scheduling the two-tournament series at the same time as the Olympic Games may have contributed to a poor entry that saw just four teams enter the first leg in Thailand and only the Thais and Hong Kong take part in the second leg, this week in Hong Kong. The absence of Japan, champions in 2015, and China were particularly noticeable.
But you can only beat the opposition that you are faced with, and Thailand fully deserved their win. Their two wins against Hong Kong in Thailand were repeated in Hong Kong, with their hosts only picking up a win in the final game after the result of the series had been decided.
The result was a big step forward for the Thais, who beat Hong Kong last year in all pool games but suffered reverses to the same opponents in the knockout phases.
They were clearly determined to not make the same mistakes this year and raced into a 14-0 half time in the opening game, before winning 19-7. Hong Kong’s only score came from Au King-to, who scored soon after the start of the second period, which briefly threatened the Thais before they added a third try.
That win made the Thais champions on paper, but they were determined not to have to rely on maths to claim the title, coming back from 10-5 down at half-time in the second game to win 15-10. The Thais drew level midway through the second half leaving the game deadlocked on ten points all, setting up some tense final moments. Hong Kong’s hopes of the win were dashed by a yellow card in the sixth minute and the Thais quickly exploited their numerical advantage to crash over for the game-winner as time expired.
Hong Kong finally broke their duck in the final match running out 10-0 winners with Rosanna Wright collecting her second try of the day in the sixth minute while Au King-to added her second in the 14th minute to give the team something to take from the day.
“I don't think we started especially well in our first match, but we came back and were in it to the end,” said Hong Kong coach Sam Feausi. “We lost the second game in the final minute… All of the games against Thailand have been agonisingly close which makes it even harder when you lose, every game seemed to come down to the last minute against them this year. It is quite challenging mentally then to come back from two games down against the same team and win that final game, so I was pleased with the way we stuck to it and the way the girls finished.”
“I have to give a lot of credit to the girls. They have improved in every game, they did what they were asked to do and they learned a lot along the way. The coaches were pleased that we were able to increase the intensity of our preparations this year and that the players responded positively, but we come away from the Series knowing that we need more time to prepare with them and more focus on sevens-specific skillsets.”
With two Asian Olympic places up for grabs for 2020 (Japan, plus one other), the rise Thailand’s young players makes the next three-four years very interesting, if they can turn their youth form into results at senior level as it will mean that four potentially very even teams (China, Kazakhstan, Hong Kong and Thailand) competing for that precious second Asian spot in Tokyo.
For Hong Kong, the one positive is hat over half of their squad will remain eligible to compete in next year’s competition. The squad members will also now enter a wider women’s development programme mounted by the Hong Kong Rugby Union, which will see them continue regular weekly training and afford greater attention to the development of core individual and team skills, as they look to go one spot better in Asia next year.
Results: Hong Kong 7-19 Thailand; Hong Kong 10-15 Thailand; Hong Kong 10-0 Thailand
On the subject of qualification, some information about the process for deciding which two teams will attend next year’s fifteen World Cup leaked out last week.
The final qualifier will be played in Hong Kong in December. This was due to be a tournament featuring the top two teams from the Asian championship, plus the African and Oceania champions.
However, after World Rugby decided not to give Kenya or Uganda an opportunity to compete for Africa’s place, followed by South Africa and Kazakhstan subsequent withdrawal from the process, a somewhat smaller tournament featuring Japan, Hong Kong and a team from Oceania will now take place.
Oceania’s spot will be decided by a play-off, probably between Samoa and Fiji, in October/November at a venue to be arranged.
The games in the final playoff will be:
Dec 9, Hong Kong v Japan
Dec 13, Japan v Oceania
Dec 17, Hong Kong v Oceania