Japan and China claim East Asian Rugby Games Gold

from IRB.com:

Japan scored with seconds left on the clock to break Hong Kong hearts and deny the East Asian Games hosts the gold medal in the men’s Rugby Sevens competition with a 26-24 victory in a thrilling final on Sunday.

The top seeds had gone through the opening day undefeated, but suffered a surprise 14-12 loss to China before overwhelming Guam 41-7 in their final round robin match at the Hong Kong Stadium.

Hong Kong had to work hard for their place in the final, nearly coming unstuck against second seeds Korea when they let a 21-0 half time advantage disappear and were fortunate the clock ran out with the Koreans trailing by just two points.

The hosts then battled past China 21-7 to keep alive hopes of winning the first ever Rugby Sevens gold medal as a competitive sport at the East Asian Games and the chance to avenge a 17-7 loss to Japan in the round robin stages.

In the gold medal match before a crowd of 11,000, Japan jumped out to an early lead with an individual try from Yusaku Kuwazuru, only for Rowan Varty to level the match at 5-5 minutes later with his own effort in the corner.

Try at the death

This early exchange of tries set the tone for the match with the scores seesawing back and forth until literally the last second when the gold medal was finally decided in Japan’s favour.

Masahiro Tsuiki edged Japan ahead again with a try under the posts, but once again Varty hit back with his second try of the match to send the sides in locked at 12-12 at half time.

The second half continued in the same vein with both sides testing each other’s defence but unable to find a way through the line until Manase Folau broke through to give Japan the lead for the third time in the match.

On two minutes remained on the clock when Adam Raby dotted down in the corner to bring Hong Kong to within two points, before Anthony Haynes crashed over to seemingly snatch victory for the hosts.

A vocal home crowd thought the gold medal was in the bag, but Japan refused to accept defeat and with just three seconds left on the clock Masahiro Tsuiki broke free to touch down, leaving Yamamoto Hidefumi an easy conversion to seal the win.

Positives for Hong Kong

“My heart was pounding as the game was so tight, but I’m very happy,” said Japan coach Wataru Murata. “Hong Kong is the home team and had great crowd support, but our team is very disciplined. We have a lot of Japanese pride and that was the difference in those final five seconds.”

Hong Kong’s Mark Wright added: “We are gutted by the loss of course but the guys played exceptional rugby throughout the tournament, especially in the final. We’re disappointed not to win, but we are very pleased with the silver. Back at the Asian Games in 2006, we were playing for fifth place and here we are not just playing for gold but leading with just seconds left. We will take a lot from this.”

His coach Dai Rees echoed this sentiment: “Credit to the guys, they played exceptionally well. Five of our players were making their debut playing inside the Hong Kong Stadium and we were leading against a team almost primarily full of professionals.

“It has been a great experience for the team and we are extremely thankful for the brilliant support we have gotten from the crowd. The reaction really proves that Rugby Sevens is a great competition for multi-sport Games.”

The battle for the bronze medal also went right down to the wire, Korea knocking on what seemed to be the winning try in the in-goal area, before getting a reprieve and charging over from the resulting scrum to lead 14-12. China still had a chance to snatch the medal but were held up with just seconds remaining.

China take women’s honours

The women’s event was far more clear cut with China showcasing once again why they are the region’s best side in the Sevens game, adding East Asian Games gold to their Asian Sevens title and Bowl success at the first Women’s Rugby World Cup Sevens earlier this year.

China had cruised through the opening day, winning all three matches with a record of scored 114 points and conceded none. In the semi final they edged past a plucky Hong Kong side 20-5 to set up a meeting with Japan, the 19-7 conquerors of the improving Guam outfit.

The favourites produced another clinical performance in the final and, despite a tremendous effort from the Japanese women, China ran out comfortable 34-12 winners to claim the gold medal. Hong Kong joined them on the podium after beating Guam 15-0 to win the bronze medal.

International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge was on hand to present the gold medals to the winning teams, reinforcing the status of Rugby Sevens as the newest Olympic Games sport with its inclusion into the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro alongside golf.

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