Thailand have retained their South East Asia Games title - but by the narrowest margin
2017 SEA Gold Medal winners, Thailand.
These were the 29th biennial South East Asia (SEA) Games, but only the third to include rugby sevens. Rugby first appeared in 2007, but sports played at the games are largely chosen by the hosts, but from 2009 a priority was given to traditional Asian sports.
Only when the Games returned to Singapore in 2015 did the focus return to the development of athletes for the Asian and Olympic Games sports, bringing Sevens back into the Games.
Thailand were champions in 2007, won again in 2015, and were favourites for this tournament. They easily topped the pool, conceding just three tries – two to Singapore – who ended runners-up. Malaysia narrowly defeated Philippines 5-0 to end third, and win a semi-final spot with Singapore. Laos were heavily outclassed and were eliminated at the pool stage.
However, in the semi-finals Malaysia were not match for Singapore and lost 22-0. Philippines - The Lady Volcanoes - were also well beaten 26-0 by Thailand.
The bronze medal match between Philippines and Malaysia was again tight. Malaysia took an early lead by the first half, finishing it at 7-0 via a try and conversion. Philippines had most of the possession but, plagued by inaccurate passes, were only once able to muscle their way through the Malaysian defence to score a try, and missed the conversion which sealed the win and the bronze medal for Malaysia.
In a repeat of the 2015 final, Thailand raced out to a 10-0 lead while Singapore were still trying to settle into the game. Thailand then made it 17-0 thanks to a try and a conversion early into the second-half, putting the result beyond doubt then.
But the Singapore team never gave up and managed to score two tries later on, reducing the deficit to just seven points. but the narrowing scoreline in the final suggests that they are closing the gap. Singapore lost 5-19 to the Thais in the 2007 Games final, and 0-39 during the 2015 title decider.
Coach Wang Shao-Ing, who played in the 2007 Games, felt the gold had been there for the taking. She said: “It’s the closest scoreline we’ve had between us and Thailand for many years. Just one (converted) try separated us... If we had protected the ball more and been more composed in the first half, I guess the colour of the medal would have been different and it would have been a massive upset.
Pool: Thailand 32-0 Philippines; Singapore 29-0 Laos; Thailand 24-10 Singapore; Malaysia 38-0 Laos; Philippines 31-0 Laos; Singapore 25-0 Philippines; Thailand 49-0 Laos; Singapore 17-0 Malaysia; Philippines 0-5 Malaysia; Thailand 38-5 Malaysia
Semi-finals: Singapore 22-0 Malaysia; Thailand 26-0 Philippines
Bronze medal: Malaysia 7-5 Philippines
Gold medal: Thailand 17-10 Singapore