Korea’s dream of appearing in a first Rugby World Cup remains alive after they defeated Malaysia 55-10 in the opening round of the Asia Rugby Championship 2022 in Incheon on Saturday.

Dominant up front and incisive in the backs, Korea comfortably had the measure of a Malaysian side that kept going until the bitter end.

Outside centre Kim Hyon Soo, winger Jeong Yeonsik and full-back Chang Yonghueng scored tries in the first half for Korea at the Namdong Asiad Rugby Stadium, with fly-half Kim Kimin missing only one of the three conversions, but the hosts couldn’t add to that score until much later in the game.

In the second half, Korea stepped up the pace to score five more tries, two of them by winger and captain Kim Gwongmin. Second-row Shin Dahyeon scored one try and had another disallowed and he was joined on the scoresheet by flanker Choi Seongdeok, scrum-half Chae Minseong and number eight Park Joonyoung. Four of the five tries were converted, one by fly-half Kim Kimin and four by full-back Oh Jimyeong.

Malaysia had chances too but it wasn’t until the last minute, when number eight Etonia Saukuru hoodwinked the Korean defence with a try from a well-worked lineout move, that they managed to find a way over the line. Full-back Faris Pead Azwan Zuwairi rounded off proceedings with the touchline conversion.

Korea will now host Hong Kong in the final of the Asia Rugby Championship 2022, on 9 July, to determine the side that progresses to meet Tonga in the Asia/Pacific Qualifier on Australia’s Sunshine Coast on 23 July.

The winner of that match will take their place in Pool B at Rugby World Cup 2023 along with South Africa, Ireland, Scotland and Europe 2.

“This is a big step for Korean rugby historically,” commented Korea’s captain Kim Gwongmin. “A lot of challenges are ahead but with everything put together, with a good team and good instruction, we believe we can beat Hong Kong and then successfully beat Tonga to reach the World Cup.”

Korea remain 29th in the World Rugby Men’s Rankings powered by Capgemini, some 22 places above Malaysia.

In the other big match taking place in Asia this weekend, Pakistan pipped Thailand to promotion to Division 1 of the Asia Rugby Championship with a thrilling victory in the second match in the two-legged contest.

Having taken the first encounter 20-15, Thailand had a slight advantage over their much lower-ranked opponents going into the rematch. But by the time the teams turned around for the second half that gap had grown to 14 points.

Thailand increased their 9-0 half-time lead by a further three points shortly after the restart and all looked lost for Pakistan.

But with the pack starting to take command and the defence remaining resolute, Pakistan turned the game on its head.

Tries from Khurram Shahzad, Ali Khan and Asrar Ahmad saw them to a 24-18 victory on the day and a 39-38 win on aggregate.

While Pakistan’s players were understandably jubilant on hearing the final whistle, Thailand’s disappointment was there for all to see.

With the victory, Pakistan climb five places up the rankings to 92nd with Thailand dropping down five to 77th.