Thailand are hoping that history will repeat itself and they can once again win the HSBC Asian 5 Nations Division II title on home soil, just as they did the last time they hosted matches in 2008.
The Thais are only one win away from repeating the feat after overcoming India 37-26 on Wednesday, with Chinese Taipei awaiting them after the top seeds beat Iran 34-31 seesaw match in Bangkok.
Thailand, who beat Malaysia in the 2008 final, controlled much of the possession and consistently looked the more threatening side, tries by prop Somjate Anusaen and wing Pannapat Pooltharat establishing a 15-0 lead.
It took India until the half hour mark to get on the scoreboard when prop Lochab Devinder barrelled over for the first of two tries in the match, sending his side in trailing 15-7 at the break.
Anusaen ensured Thailand came bursting out of the blocks with his second try minutes into the second half with fly half Thanawatr Jamkrajang increasing the lead to 27-7 before a partisan crowd at the Supachalasai National Stadium.
Devinder replied for India, but Jamkrajang’s second restored the advantage and even though the Indians finished strongly, tries from wing Vikas Khatri and centre Rohit Singh were not enough to claw back the deficit.
Leaving a legacy
“This win was an important one for us in front of our home crowds. Our fans are expecting us to win and to be promoted,” explained captain Tanyavit Kuasint.
“For me personally, it is also important as this is my 10th year representing Thailand and I will probably step down from the national set-up after this year. I really want to get us back to Division I before I make way for the younger players.”
Thai coach Atapol Wongratana added: “This is a very good start for us but we can still play much better. Our union expects us to gain promotion as we are hosting in front of our own supporters.
“We will need a big effort against Chinese Taipei’s forwards but we still have a lot left in the tank and the players can still reach a higher level of performance.”
Chinese Taipei, relegated from Division I last year after fielding a very young and inexperienced team, certainly did not have it all their own way against the Division III champions Iran in the day’s other match.
Both sides took time to settle their nerves and find their rhythm with Chinese Taipei taking the lead with a Pan Chih-Hsiang penalty and try by Wu Wei-Luan.
However, while Chinese Taipei threatened to race away with the match at that stage, the eight point lead would be the largest enjoyed by any side for the remainder of encounter.
Iran hit back with Reza Daghaghele’s try and the match quickly turned into a seesaw affair with the two sides exchanging scores. Hung Pen-Chiao edged Chinese Taipei further ahead only for another Iranian try to cut their lead to 15-12 at half time.
Iran’s greater physicality seemed to be turning the match in their favour as flanker Mohammad Khalili gave them the lead for the first time, but once more Chinese Taipei came back with Wu Wei-Luan’s second try.
The sin-binning of hooker Chiu Min-Ching looked set to prove costly when Iranian number 8 Yoosef Jalai scored, but repeated infringements saw a penalty try awarded to edge Chinese Taipei 27-26 ahead with 15 minutes remaining.
Hung Pen-Chiao increased the lead with his second try of the match, but the Iranians refused to give up and were rewarded when full back Ramin Najafi touched down. Time, though, ran out for the winning score and Iran will face India on Saturday in a match no-one wants to lose with the loser relegated back to Division III for 2012.
The Division II matches will be followed by a piece of Asian 5 Nations history when Japan meet Kazakhstan in a Top 5 encounter, the first time a match has been staged on neutral soil since the competition began in 2008.
Japan kicked off their quest for a fourth successive Top 5 title with a 45-22 victory in Hong Kong last weekend, while relegation is becoming a danger for Kazakhstan after losses to Hong Kong and the United Arab Emirates.
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