With the end of the year fast approaching, Tom Chick continues our review of 2011 with a look back over the HSBC Asian 5 Nations.
Japan had extra motivation to secure a fourth successive HSBC Asian 5 Nations title in 2011 after dedicating the campaign to those back home who had been affected by the devastating earthquake and tsunami which struck in March.
The Brave Blossoms succeeded in lifting the Japanese spirits with another dominant campaign, scoring 307 points and conceding just 35 in beating Hong Kong, Kazakhstan, the United Arab Emirates and Sri Lanka to remain the only side to win the competition since its inception in 2008.
“We set two main goals for the HSBC 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.”
The 2011 installment of the Top 5 began on 23 April, with newly promoted Sri Lanka and the UAE, who replaced the disbanded Arabian Gulf in the top tier of Asian rugby, playing out a 13-13 draw in Colombo while Kazakhstan suffered a 23-10 defeat to Hong Kong in Almaty.
Kazakhstan were unable to find the form that had seen them finish second in 2010 throughout this year’s tournament and were on the wrong end of a surprise 24-10 defeat to the UAE a week later in the first ever international match played in Abu Dhabi thanks to a 14-point haul from fly half Jonathon Grady.
It was the UAE’s first ever victory in international rugby and left them top of the standings in their debut campaign after the Arabian Gulf Rugby Football Union ceased to exist at the end of 2010 in an exciting restructure in the West Asia region.
UAE, playing in their first Asian 5 Nations, stunned 2010 runners-up Kazakhstan in Abu Dhabi
“It feels fantastic,” admitted UAE coach Bruce Birtwistle afterwards. “It is great to get our first win at home under the UAE banner and I’m extremely proud of the effort of the entire team.”
But, as the only Asian side competing at Rugby World Cup 2011 in New Zealand, Japan were always heavy favourites to defend the title and duly got their campaign off to a winning start on 30 April.
With coach Kirwan admitting his side had “plenty of work to do” after witnessing a “poor performance” in the 45-22 victory over Hong Kong, Japan went on to score 172 unanswered points in their next two matches against Kazakhstan and the UAE to retain the distinctive trophy with a match remaining.
Takeshi Kizu scored four of Japan’s nine tries against Kazakhstan in a 61-0 victory in the Thailand capital Bangkok, before James Arlidge caught the eye against the UAE at 7he Sevens in Dubai on 13 May, scoring the first of his side’s 17 tries after just three minutes in the beginning of a 29-point haul for the fly-half.
With the title secured, Japan would not let their foot off the pedal and scored a further 14 tries to finish in emphatic style with a 90-13 victory against Sri Lanka in Colombo on 21 May and stretch their unbeaten run in the competition to 16 matches.
Alisi Tupuailai stole the headlines in Japan’s final match, the centre scoring five tries to tie the record of teammate Kosuke Endo for the most in an Asian 5 Nations match and his quintet also took his tally for the season to nine, the most ever scored by an individual in a single Top 5 campaign.
“It is great to defend our title,” admitted captain Takashi Kikutani, who scored twice in the Sri Lanka win. “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.”
Qatar celebrate their unbeaten start to Test rugby after claiming the Division IV title
With the title already Japan’s before the final round of matches, many eyes were on the Hong Kong Football Club where Hong Kong and the UAE both had their sights set on securing victory to finish second in the standings.
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, Nick Hewson and Ross Armour both scoring twice in the 62-3 victory.
“We have to sustain this result,” said Hong Kong coach Dai Rees. “Finishing second in Asia probably means nothing 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.”
Sri Lanka’s defeat to Japan saw them relegated to Division I and although their stay in the Top 5 may have been brief, they have shown their potential in a sport enjoying huge growth in the country and will be favourites to secure another title to return to Asia’s elite tier for 2013.
Their place in 2012 will be taken by Korea, who return to the Top 5 at the first attempt after a 58-19 victory over Singapore in the Division I final thanks to two tries apiece from Wong Yong Kim, Sung Soo Kim, Nam Wook Kim and Kwang Min Kim.
In the other tiers of the A5N pyramid, Chinese Taipei were triumphant in Division II after they beat Thailand 22-10 in the final and will replace Malaysia in Division I, while China will take India’s place in Division II following a 28-18 victory over Guam.
In Division IV, the curtain raiser to Japan’s victory over the UAE was the final between Qatar and Lebanon. Qatar created their own piece of history with a first ever Test victory, over top seeds Jordan, and then followed it up by beating Lebanon 29-14 to win the title and remain unbeaten in Test rugby. In Division V Laos beat Cambodia 11-7 in the last of the action in this year's A5N to take the title 32-26 on aggregate.
HSBC ASIAN 5 NATIONS 2011 RESULTS
Sri Lanka 13-13 United Arab Emirates, Kazakhstan 10-23 Hong Kong, United Arab Emirates 24-10 Kazakhstan, Hong Kong 22-45 Japan, Sri Lanka 3-48 Hong Kong, Kazakhstan 0-61 Japan, United Arab Emirates 0-111 Japan, Kazakhstan 34-18 Sri Lanka, Sri Lanka 13-90 Japan, Hong Kong 62-3 Kazakhstan
Singapore 52-17 Malaysia, Korea 34-20 Philippines, Malaysia 20-86 Philippines, Korea 58-19 Singapore
Chinese Taipei 34-31 Iran, India 24-37 Thailand, Iran 30-19 India, Chinese Taipei 22-10 Thailand
Pakistan 10-37 Guam, China 32-23 Indonesia, Pakistan 19-20 Indonesia, Guam 18-28 China
Uzbekistan 15-34 Lebanon, Jordan 8-26 Qatar, Uzbekistan 14-17 Jordan, Lebanon 14-29 Qatar
Cambodia 19-21 Laos, Laos 11-7 Cambodia
This review is taken from the IRB World Rugby Yearbook 2012, click here to buy your copy >>