2010 in review: Japan remain on top in Asia

(IRB.COM) Sunday 2 January 2011
 

There was far more than pride, or even silverware, at stake in the third annual instalment of the HSBC Asian 5 Nations as Japan, Kazakhstan, Hong Kong, Arabian Gulf and Korea prepared for action, with all five sides acutely aware that the winners of the 2010 tournament would secure automatic qualification for Rugby World Cup 2011 in New Zealand.

Japan began as overwhelming favourites having won the inaugural competition in 2008 and successfully defended their title in 2009, completing both campaigns unbeaten, and the Brave Blossoms did not disappoint as they amassed a phenomenal 326 points in four landslide victories.

Coached by former All Black wing John Kirwan, Japan were simply irresistible throughout the tournament and their crushing 94–5 victory over Hong Kong at the Prince Chichibu Memorial Stadium in Tokyo in May confirmed they would maintain their proud record of appearing at every World Cup since 1987.

“We have achieved our first goal this year which was to qualify for the World Cup,” Kirwan said after his team had dispatched Hong Kong. “The players have worked very hard and that was our best performance in the competition so far. But there is a long way to go. This is a fantastic opportunity for the players whose dream is to play at a World Cup and hopefully we can show the Japanese style of rugby.”

The tournament kicked off in late April with the Arabian Gulf, playing their last Asian 5 Nations before disbanding to pave the way for its member nations to form their own Test sides, travelling to Kazakhstan and Korea going to Hong Kong.

Korea suffer heavy losses

Kazakhstan proved too strong for the Gulf in Almaty in a 43–28 triumph but it was Hong Kong who started the competition with a surprise result and a 32–8 victory over the Koreans courtesy of a brace of tries forward Nigel Clarke, plus one try each by fly half Keith Robertson and substitute wing Tom McQueen.

“This is an awesome start and just what we wanted,” said captain Simon Leung. “It was a great squad effort, but we have to keep our feet on the ground as we still have another three games to go.”

The Japanese meanwhile began against Korea in Kyungsang in early May and the defending champions made an immediate statement of intent with a crushing 71–13 victory over their hosts courtesy of five tries from flying wing Kosuke Endo.

The clash was the only away game of the campaign for Kirwan’s side and they returned to Tokyo to prepare for their remaining three games. The Arabian Gulf, were the first visitors to the Japanese capital and although the final 60–5 scoreline in favour of the home side suggested another rout, the Gulf XV were far from disgraced and grabbed a late consolation try from Sean Hurley.

“I couldn’t ask much more from the boys,” insisted Gulf captain Michael Cox-Hill. “We never gave up and proved that by scoring in the 76th minute. We can take a lot of credit for the way we played.”

World Cup berth for Japan

A week later Japan played host to Kazakhstan in the Prince Chichibu Memorial Stadium and if Kirwan’s side had been impressive in their opening two fixtures, they were simply irresistible against Kazakhstan in what proved to be a hugely one-sided encounter.

Shota Horie, Sione Vatuvei, Goshi Tachikawa and Koji Taira all crossed the line inside the first 17 minutes to stun the visitors and wrap up the available bonus point. Kazakhstan did reply midway through the first half through hooker Mikhail Solovyev but it was merely a temporary respite and Japan ran in 11 further tries to complete a 101–7 mauling that took them to the verge of World Cup qualification.

It was still mathematically possible for Hong Kong to dethrone the Japanese as champions and finish first with a bonus point victory in the clash between the two sides in the final game of the tournament but Japan knew a draw would be sufficient to ensure they would be playing in New Zealand in 2011.

As it transpired, the home side were never troubled by the visitors in front of a tournament record 10,000-strong crowd in Tokyo and when wing Alisi Tupuailei raced over for the first try of the match, the writing was on the wall for Hong Kong.

Tupuailei went on to complete a hat-trick in the opening 40 minutes, while Endo helped himself to a brace, and Japan stormed to a convincing 94–5 victory which confirmed them as Asian 5 Nations champions for a third successive year and rewarded the Brave Blossoms with another opportunity to perform on the world stage.

“It’s important we keep growing,” said Kirwan after the match. “I want to show the world how much we have improved and I hope we have the courage to play our style of rugby. I have never taken the field to lose a game and won’t in New Zealand next year and I am sure the players feel the same.”

Sri Lanka join Top 5

Defeat was a bitter pill to swallow for Hong Kong but there was worse to follow when the news filtered through that Kazakhstan had triumphed 32–25 over Korea in Incheon in their final game, snatching second place in the table to claim the right to face Uruguay – which the South Americans won 44–7 in July – in a cross-continental play-off for a place in the World Cup.

“It is really disappointing that our World Cup dream is over but Japan were too good for us and we were blown away,” said Hong Kong head coach Dai Rees. “And all credit to Kazakhstan to go to Korea and beat them by four tries to secure the crucial bonus point.”

In Division One of the Asian Five Nations, Sri Lanka earned promotion to the top-flight after beating Singapore 23–16 in a thrilling final staged in the Yio Chu Kang Stadium.

The Sri Lankans had beaten Chinese Taipei 37–7 in the semi-final but were taken to the wire by Singapore in the final and had it not been for a dramatic late try, the game could have gone into extra-time.

Scrum half Roshan Weeraratne got the first try of the match for Sri Lanka but the two sides were locked at 16–16 all as the final whistle loomed, only for centre Chamara Vithanage to charge over in the corner for the vital score that settled the issue.

“We fought tremendous odds on and off the field and came through with flying colours mainly due to the tremendous team work,” said Sri Lanka captain Pradeep Liyanage. “We promised to bring glory to our motherland and we have done it.”

Division II saw China suffer two heavy defeats with hosts India running riot to win 94-5 and then Thailand triumphing 56-5 to finish third. It was the Philippines though with cause to celebrate after beating India 34-12 in the final to secure another promotion.

Iran, who later in the year would become the 118th Member Union of the International Rugby Board, beat Guam and Pakistan to win Division III with Jordan coming out on top in Division IV and Laos winning the three-team Regional tournament at the bottom of the A5N pyramid.

HSBC ASIAN 5 NATIONS 2010 RESULTS

TOP FIVE
Hong Kong 32–8 Korea, Kazakhstan 43–28 Arabian Gulf, Arabian Gulf 16–9 Hong Kong, Korea 13–71 Japan, Japan 60–5 Arabian Gulf, Hong Kong 19–15 Kazakhstan, Arabian Gulf 21–19 Korea, Kazakhstan 7–101 Japan, Japan 94–5 Hong Kong, Korea 25–32 Kazakhstan

DIVISION I
Chinese Taipei 7–37 Sri Lanka, Singapore 22–20 Malaysia, Chinese Taipei 8–35 Malaysia, Sri Lanka 23–16 Singapore

DIVISION II
China 5–94 India, Thailand 33–53 Philippines, China 5–56 Thailand, India 12–34 Philippines

DIVISION III
Guam 11–44 Iran, Pakistan 13–11 Indonesia, Guam 49–12 Indonesia, Iran 19–6 Pakistan

DIVISION IV
Uzbekistan 46–0 Almaty Select XV, Jordan 29–21 Mongolia, Almaty Select XV 38–21 Mongolia, Uzbekistan 3–28 Jordan

REGIONAL TOURNAMENT: CAMBODIA
Cambodia 9–10 Brunei, Laos 23–5 Brunei, Cambodia 3–12 Laos