Belgium were not only crowned Emirates Airline Cup of Nations champions after beating 2011 winners Hong Kong 24-12 in Dubai on Friday, but have also climbed to a new high of 21st in the latest IRB World Rankings.
The victory over Hong Kong at 7he Sevens, allied with a 28-11 defeat of Zimbabwe a few days earlier, has lifted Belgium above Uruguay and Portugal and to within just over a rating point of Russia above them in 20th.
With all four sides due to begin their quest to qualify for Rugby World Cup 2015 next year, the second Cup of Nations took on added significance with Belgium, Hong Kong, Zimbabwe and United Arab Emirates all eager to end the year with a confidence boost.
Belgium and Hong Kong had set up their title decider after brushing aside the other teams in the round robin format, and the Europeans came out of the blocks strongly in the first and second halves to score early tries.
Thomas de Molder opened the scoring in only the fourth minute, the number 8 powering his way over the try-line after a series of mauls from the kick-off had allowed Belgium to set themselves up in Hong Kong’s 22.
Hong Kong kept in touch with three penalties from the boot of fly half Christopher McAdam, but one from full back Alan Williams – who had contributed 44 points in Belgium’s 94-3 rout of UAE on day one – sent Belgium in leading 10-9 at the break.
The defending champions had finished the first half strongly, but were stung when Belgium’s forwards again set up camp in the Hong Kong 22 and a series of pick and go moves scrum half Sebastien Guns went over in the corner after just three minutes.
Williams added a further three penalties to McAdam’s one to secure the title for Belgium and a confidence boost as they prepare to face Georgia, Romania, Russia, Portugal and Spain in the European Nations Cup Division 1A next year.
Zimbabwe finish with a flourish
“I think we played some good rugby. We have good team spirit now, it feels great,” said Belgium captain Andrew Neill, knowing his team face an even bigger challenge when they start live in the ENC top tier against defending champions Georgia on 2 February.
Hong Kong coach Leigh Jones admitted that Belgium were “too big, too heavy and too skilful. I think we did well to keep the scoreline to what it was, but the whole point of coming to competitions like this is to face opposition like that. We will learn lessons and move forward from it.”
Hong Kong remain 28th despite the Belgian defeat, now roughly a point below their Asian 5 Nations rivals Korea and the same above Germany.
Earlier in the day, Zimbabwe had bounced back from the disappointment of losses to Hong Kong and Belgium by turning a half-time lead into a victory for the first time in the Cup of Nations, overwhelming UAE 65-14 after a strong second half.
Zimbabwe led their hosts only 17-9 at the interval, but cut loose in the second half, scoring eight tries through Takunda Chifokoyo, Shayne Makombe (2), Kuda Chiwanza (2 to complete his hat-trick), captain Shingai Mpofu and replacement Tichafara Makwanya.
The African champions remain 31st in the rankings, albeit slightly closer to Morocco below them. This change in rating point, though, is due to the loss to Belgium, the UAE win had no impact on their rating due to their hosts being ranked 96th.
These will be the final changes to the IRB World Rankings in 2012 with the next international action which could have an effect being at the beginning of February when the RBS 6 Nations and European Nations Cup gets underway.