Japan finished the HSBC Asian 5 Nations 2011 with a flourish, beating Sri Lanka 90-13 in Colombo before collecting the distinctive trophy for the fourth successive year, having won all 16 matches in the competition’s history with the try-scoring bonus point.
The Brave Blossoms’ campaign has been dedicated to the victims of the earthquake and tsunami in March and will help to lift the spirits of Japanese rugby fans back at home as the team build towards Rugby World Cup 2011 in New Zealand.
John Kirwan’s side have scored 307 points in their four matches and conceded just 35 with 2010 runners up Kazakhstan and the United Arab Emirates unable to get on the scoreboard against Asia’s dominant force.
Japan ran in 14 tries against Sri Lanka, who need to avoid defeat to remain in the Top 5 for next year, with centre Alisi Tupuailai claiming five of them to tie the record of teammate Kosuke Endo for the most tries in an Asian 5 Nations match.
Tupuailai’s quintet took his tally for the season to nine, the most ever scored by in a single Top 5 campaign, while Takehisa Usuzuki, Toetuu Taufa, Fumiaki Tanaka (2), Shaun Webb, Atsushi Tanabe, captain Takashi Kikutani (2) and Hirotoki Onozawa also touching down.
Japan finish top of the standings with a perfect 24 points, seven more than Hong Kong who beat the United Arab Emirates 62-3 to finish second for the first time, with UAE on eight points, two more than Kazakhstan with Sri Lanka bottom with three points.
Sri Lanka’s stay in the Top 5 may have been brief, but they have shown their potential in a sport enjoying huge growth in the country and will be favourites to win another Division I title to return to Asia’s elite tier for 2013.
Their place will be taken by either Korea, Singapore, Malaysia or the Philippines, who will contest the next HSBC Asian 5 Nations action with Division I kicking off on Wednesday, 1 June with the two semi finals.
“We set two main goals for the HSBS Asian 5 Nations 2011 at the beginning of this tour,” explained Japan coach John Kirwan. “First, defending the championship title and second, remembering the March 11 tragedy and sending a sort of spiritual message to the people who are suffering from the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear issue in the Tohoku region.
"We wanted to do this by displaying our best possible performance over the past four games. Of course, we still have a lot of work to do to improve before the upcoming Pacific Nations Cup and Rugby World Cup in New Zealand. We need to prepare and focus on intensive defence to lift the team to the next level.”
Legacy from tournament
Kikutani added: “It is great to defend our title and we sincerely appreciate all the people who have supported our national team on this tour to make it happen. We were so happy to participate in the HSBC Asian 5 Nations tour considering the difficult situation in Japan.
“In our team, we have two players whose families were affected by the March 11 disasters. Thus, at the beginning of the tour, we were determined to play hard in the four matches, not only for ourselves, but also for the people of Tohoku and Japan.
“Through the tournament this year, we have forged strong unity and solidarity in the team. This is our legacy for us to keep up the good work for the upcoming Pacific Nations Cup.”
The title was already Japan’s before the final round of matches, but Hong Kong and the United Arab Emirates both had their sights set on finishing second place with victory in their head-to-head at the Hong Kong Football Club.
In reality, there was only going to be one winner once the match got underway with Hong Kong dominating the set pieces and the breakdown, enjoying a wealth of possession to run in 10 tries for their biggest win in Asian 5 Nations history.
Improvement key for Hong Kong
“It was an excellent performance from the guys,” said Hong Kong national coach Dai Rees. “We have always stressed what mattered was performing and today the guys shone. We didn’t sneak over the line, we finished second in commanding fashion.
“We have to sustain this result. Finishing second in Asia probably means nothing at the end of the day if you look down the road to qualifying for the 2015 World Cup. What matters is that we keep improving as we have done over the last few years. Last year we finished third and now we are second. We have to continue to improve.
Flanker Nick Hewson and full back Ross Armour both scored braces in the win with number 8 Pale Tauti, flanker Mark Goosen, prop Nigel Hobler, hooker Alex Harris, centre Alex McQueen and replacement Jamie Hood all touching down.
UAE’s departing coach Bruce Birtwistle added: “It feels like a job half done. While we have achieved our target of staying in the Top 5 next year, our goal was to finish second, but Hong Kong came up with a very impressive display today.”
There was further cause for celebration in Hong Kong with their women’s team providing too strong for Singapore, running out 53-8 winners with centres Natasha Olson-Thorne (3) and Becky Underwood (2) accounting for five tries in the match.