Kazakhstan booked their place in the Asia Rugby Women’s Championship 2023 final, and as a result the inaugural WXV campaign, with an impressive 27-23 victory against Hong Kong China on Tuesday.
The hosts had lost back-to-back matches against their visitors in Hong Kong last December but turned the tables in Almaty to run in five tries and secure a momentous win.
Kazakhstan will return to the Almaty Sports Training Complex on Sunday to take on Japan in the showpiece match as they attempt to win a record sixth Asia Rugby Women’s Championship title.
The winner of the final will take their place in WXV 2 this October, while the loser will line up in WXV 3, meaning Kazakhstan are guaranteed to be involved in the first edition of World Rugby’s new annual global 15s competition.
“I feel amazing, my team feels amazing,” Kazakhstan captain Karina Sazontova said. “We just wanted to win, and we did it.”
On qualifying for WXV, she added: “For us this means a lot because we will represent Asia Rugby in this tournament and that’s amazing.”
The result ends Hong Kong China’s hopes of winning a second Asia Rugby Women’s Championship crown and means they will have to wait until at least 2024 to take part in WXV.
“Of course, we’re disappointed because a lot of that came from our errors and not following what we wanted to do,” Hong Kong China captain Natasha Olson-Thorne said.
“We’re going to learn from this game, come back and keep getting better.”
Hong Kong China had lost their previous meeting in Almaty, suffering a 40-0 defeat to their hosts in the Kazakh capital in 2015, and the visitors went behind early on.
Kazakhstan winger Amina Tulegenova scored the first of her two tries, touching down in the left corner following a good team move.
Mariya Grishina missed the conversion, however, and after Aileen Ryan had narrowed the deficit with a penalty, that enabled Hong Kong China to take the lead when Qian Jiayu powered over.
Hong Kong China’s lead lasted only a matter of moments, though. A handling error from the restart was punished by Tulegenova, who hacked the ball on before reaching it and touching it down just before it went dead.
Ryan landed her second penalty of the match to edge the visitors back in front, at 11-10, but Kazakhstan replied through prop Yelena Yurova, who burrowed over from close range to score her side’s third try. Full-back Gulim Bakhytbek converted to stretch the hosts’ lead to six points.
There was still some time for late drama in the first half, though, as Kazakh flanker Liliya Kibisheva was shown a yellow card and Hong Kong China eventually made their numerical advantage count to score through Chong Ka Yan.
Ryan missed a difficult conversion, which meant the hosts turned round 17-16 in front and that would prove to be the only points Hong Kong China scored while their opponents were reduced to 14 players.
It was Kazakhstan who scored next, once Kibisheva was back on the pitch, as Veronika Stepanuyga crossed in the left corner following a flowing team move.
Less than six minutes later the hosts had a fifth try as Yurova breached the goal line for a second time.
It gave Kazakhstan an 11-point lead and meant that a superb solo try from Hong Kong China captain Olson-Thorne was nothing more than consolation.