HONG KONG SEALS ASIAN SEVENS PLUM AS SRI LANKA FALTER

Published : 8:45 am  October 17, 2016 | No comments so far |  |  (466) reads | 

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BY SHEHAN DANIEL REPORTING FROM THE RACE COURSE INTERNATIONAL RUGBY STADIUM Sri Lanka had their hearts broken by Hong Kong before being caught on the backfoot by China, as they finished a disappointing fourth in the third and final leg of the Asian Sevens Series which concluded at the Race Course International Stadium yesterday–with Hong Kong being crowned overall champions. Hong Kong beat South Korea 24-19 in a closely contested Cup final to complete the trifecta–winning all three legs of the series–and scoring maximum points to be crowned Asian Seven Series champions. The hosts had lofty hopes heading into the tournament, eyeing their first rugby sevens crown, which would give them a chance to topple Hong Kong at the top of this year’s Asian Sevens Series points table.

They however failed at the first hurdle– losing to Hong Kong 19-07 in the Cup semis–before squandering a 14-point lead in the last two minutes of the third-place play-off to lose to China 22-21. Sri Lanka led 21-07 as late as the 12th minute, before some lackadaisical defending sensationally allowed the Chinese to score three tries in the dying stages of the game. Sri Lanka took an early lead, retrieving the kickoff and sending Richard Dharmapala through for a try, which was subsequently converted by Kevin Dixon. China struck back stretching the Sri Lankan defence, but couldn’t score till the final minute of the first half, when the hosts conceded a penalty on the 5-metre line. A quick-tap put Chao Zhang into open space, and he obliged with a try with Jianhua Wang’s successful conversion putting the Chinese level. Dharmapala had an opportunity to put Sri Lanka ahead again shortly before the half-time whistle, but dropped the ball after breaking away from a scrum with no one in front of him. Srinath Sooriyabandara gave Sri Lanka the lead in the first minute after the break, with arguably one of the best tries of the day. After his team had forced a turn-over, Sooriyabandara took the ball in his own half and made a darting run, wrong footing and dropping a defender to the ground along the way, with a nifty piece of skill. Dixon’s conversion gave Sri Lanka a seven-point lead. That lead was extended when Dhanushka Ranjan slipped a tackle at the half-line and made a darting run over the try line–Dixon nailing the two added points. However, it was from there that things unravelled for Sri Lanka, as China thrice pushed the hosts on the defensive and created enough space for Changshan Shan, Wenru Feng and Shoushou Wang to each score a try.

Though all three tries went unconverted, it was enough for China to pip the hosts by a point. While the loss to China stung, the defeat to Hong Kong had more implications to the overall result. Sri Lanka made a roaring start–matching the deafening crowd support–when Danusha Dyan scored virtually off Hong Kong’s kick-off; the hosts direct-attack approach working perfectly. Three minutes later however, Hong Kong scored their first points through Max Woodward, who found open space to score a try, close to the left corner, converted by Benjamin Rimene.

The frenetic first half ended 7-all. Hong Kong’s pedigree showed in the second half, as they found holes in Sri Lanka’s defence, with Salom Yui putting them ahead with a 10th minute unconverted try. Three minutes later, the result was sealed with another Woodward try which was converted by Rimene. Malaysia, who had shocked Hong Kong on Saturday, finished as Plate champions, beating Japan 19-14. Japan were crowned women’s champions with a 17-05 victory over China. Sri Lanka’s women’s team, with a performance that showed a lot of heart but less skill, lost to Singapore 12-07 in the plate final, having taken the game to a second period of extra time, before conceding the winning try.