Malaysia will play in Division I of the HSBC Asian Five Nations next year after overcoming an under strength China 43-15 in the Division II final on home soil at the UiTM Stadium in Kuala Lumpur on Saturday to earn promotion in place of the relegated Thailand.
The hosts went into the match ranked 34 places below China in the IRB World Rankings, but enjoyed a comfortable victory over a side who entered the tournament with only 19 players. China gave it their all and defended well and actually took the lead with a strong attack from the kick-off allowing Zhun Chen to cross the try-line.
However the Malaysians were hungry for the victory before their fans and replied almost immediately with a try from their Fijian-born centre Nacani Seniu, the conversion slotted between the uprights by fly half Mohammad Faiz Shamsukidir who caught the eye throughout with a man of the match display.
Bo Zhou edged China ahead again with a penalty, but a scything run and no look pass from the impressive Faiz allowed Seniu to race through for his second try and give Malaysia a 14-10 lead. A momentary lapse in concentration, though, meant China went in leading 15-14 at half time after Peihou Zhu’s try.
With a limited number of replacements at their disposal, China inevitably tired in the second half and this enabled Malaysia to pile on the points with the hosts’ three Fijian-born players in their backline – Seniu, outside centre Timoci Nacokula and wing Semi Seruvakala Sovunidakua – pulling the strings.
India claim third position
Nacokula and Sovunidakua joined Seniu on the scoresheet with tries in the 68th and 79th minutes respectively with Sarizan Yasir and Lee Wei Ming also crossing the whitewash with Faiz’s scything runs creating the space for his teammates to exploit and sap the strength from the tiring Chinese.
Malaysia can look forward to playing Singapore (relegated from the Top 5), Chinese Taipei and Sri Lanka in Division I in 2010, while China will remain in Division II with Thailand (relegated from Division I), India and the winner of Division III involving Philippines, Guam, Iran and Indonesia which takes place next month.
India ensured they remained in Division I with a 44-3 victory over Pakistan in the third place play-off. The match, which was played in scorching conditions, belied the score as it was a fairly tight affair with the victors scoring four of their six tries through their tight five.
Having been unlucky to be drawn against the eventual champions Malaysia on the opening day, India performed solidly under their new coaching team of Norman Lake and Hendre Marnitz with tries coming from Parvinder Singh, Hemant Kumar (2), Surinder Singh, captain Nasser Hussain and Bikash Jena.
Pakistan will be relegated to Division III for 2010, but despite that disappointment they can draw positives from blooding six new players in Malaysia and also the fact that they had significantly closed the gap from their meeting with India last year when they lost 92-0 in Bangkok.
Malaysia's lucky charm
Former England international Rory Underwood was in the crowd to see the two matches and was impressed by what he saw from all four participating teams, but particularly Malaysia and joked he must be their lucky charm with them having won both matches in his presence.
“It was a great day with some very strong support from the crowd and it was great to be back in a rugby environment in Asia. I am really delighted to see that the game continues to grow in Asia, particularly through the influence of the HSBC Asian Five Nations,” said Underwood.
“You could clearly see the intensity of all of the teams as Pakistan and India had a tense battle to see who would stay up in Division II. In the final, Malaysia put on a cracking display. I must be their good luck charm as they have won both times that I have watched them. I will have to attend next year’s Division I tournament to cheer them on as they continue their way to the Top 5.
“I am also excited to see some of the native talent in Asia, just today I have seen a few players with the physique and ability to have a go in the Leicester Academy set-up and I will be reporting back to our scouts. I look forward to having a chance to return to visit the Asian Five Nations next year.”
The Asian Five Nations 2009 continues next week with the Regional tournament in Tashkent featuring hosts Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia and Jordan, before the new Division III event in Manila on from 1-4 July.