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The men’s sevens squad of Hong Kong, China let a golden moment slip its grasp tonight, losing to hosts South Korea, 12-7, in sudden death extra time at the Namdong Asiad Rugby Stadium in Incheon.

Hong Kong will now have to try its chances in the 12-team international repechage for the 12th and final at-large spot in 2020 next June in Biarritz, France. That tournament will bring an increased level of competition with teams from around the world, including core teams on the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series also fighting for the spot. Hong Kong advanced to the same stage in 2016, but failed to qualify.

Hong Kong was on song throughout the competition but pressure in the final told, with fervent Korean support helping fuel their team’s magical run to the final.

Hong Kong took a 7-0 lead midway through a tight first half with Jamie Hood crossing over for the first try and converting his own effort. Russell Webb, who was instrumental this weekend, was injured on the play, coming off soon after the score.

His absence would be felt in the second half as Hong Kong’s restart game, something that had put opponents under real pressure up to the final, came unstuck without Webb’s ball placement abilities. Ben Rimene came on for Webb and immediately produced a try-saving tackle to keep Hong Kong’s margin intact into the second half.

The game hung in the balance late with both sides having opportunities in attack. But as they had done against China in the semi-final, Korea scored late to level matters before sealing the victory in extra time.

While Korea were lifting, Hong Kong were perhaps guilty of pressing too much, forcing plays and giving away possession at crucial times - the only downside of having a number of new young guns enter the squad.

The addition of Hugo Stiles in the second half helped break down the Korean defence and created more space for the Hong Kong attack but the visitors failed to finish any of their opportunities.

In extra time, Hong Kong were under the Korean posts in an ideal attacking position but conceded a penalty to turn the ball back to the hosts. South Korea wasted no time in working play into Hong Kong’s half before opening up the defence with a long-range try to win the match and book their place in Tokyo.

For Hong Kong, it will be back to the drawing board now to start preparations for the upcoming qualification events for the HSBC World Rugby Seven Series Qualifier in South America this February.

A disappointed coach Paul John fronted up after the game saying, “Momentum shifted a hell of a lot in that game, but we had enough chances to win. We had chances to score right through the end. The guys were working their socks off, but we could not get the ball away from the Korea ruck really.

“That last play, you know, to be on their line in extra time, five metres away, but a penalty goes against us and they go all the way. That is why sevens is such a great and cruel game.

“I can’t fault the boys’ effort or their commitment, not just the guys here with us but the other boys back at home that have trained so hard for this moment,” said John.

John then addressed the repechage saying, “There is still an opportunity, but it is a lot more difficult, because of the calibre of the teams there. We knew this was our best route and things will have to go well for us at the repechage, but it feels a long way off at this moment.

“We will go back to the hotel tonight and have a bit of a drink with the boys because they have earned that, and get back to Hong Kong tomorrow and regroup,” he said.

Elder statesman in the team Salom Yiu Kam-shing believes the result will make Hong Kong stronger now.

“It's really disappointing, but we still have one more chance to get to the Olympics in June, but it will be tougher.

“I think we really were nervous towards the end, and maybe everyone wanted to be the hero, and we lost our structure a little bit. But this experience provides many lessons, and not just for the young players, to help us learn how to control our emotions when it comes to the crunch, to make adjustments so we keep in control of the game. Today has been a good, but very painful, lesson.

“I think all of the boys played well the whole tournament, we just couldn’t quite finish it at the end. Yes we are sad now, but after a week’s rest, we will be back and ready to compete for a spot in the World Series,” said Yiu.

Cado Lee Ka-to echoed Yiu saying, “There is disappointment for sure, we came into this tournament knowing we had a great chance to get to Tokyo 2020. We lost in the final, and the whole team is sad, but not ‘heartbroken’ as when we get back to Hong Kong, there is nothing left do to but pick ourselves up and immediately begin preparations for the repechage.

“The next six months we have a lot of opportunities like the Hong Kong Sevens to prepare even better and give ourselves every chance. On the pitch, I credit our team for the fight we put up against a very strong team. We tried our best and gave all we had,” added Lee.

Information and Photo source : Hong Kong Rugby Union

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