The Hong Kong Rugby Union has named its squad
Thailand Sevens, the second of three events on the 2015
Asia Rugby Sevens Series.
Hong Kong are the defending series
champions, but suffered their first loss in Asian sevens Series
play in over a year in the opener earlier this month in China,
losing to the hosts to end up winning the Plate. Hong Kong will be
looking to bounce back with a pristine performance in Bangkok.
Coach Gareth Baber has kept faith with his squad
from China, selecting 11 of the 12-man team from the series opener
in Qingdao. Hard-tackling back Tyler Spitz is the only change,
coming in to the squad after Tomasi Lawa was injured in training.
“We were bitterly disappointed after China so it was a pretty
introspective mood for two or three days when we returned,” said Baber. “But we re-grouped and kept things in proper perspective.
We lost one game, our first in over a year at this level, and
against a team in China that we hadn’t lost to in a long while,
but that happens in sport. We know we need to pick ourselves up
and go out and perform this weekend in Thailand. We
identified some issues from the first tournament, particularly in
our defence and we have worked hard on that in training. Training
has been good and the only black mark was the injury to Tomasi.
But it’s next man up and Tyler adds a lot to the squad.”
Spitz, who returned to Hong Kong last season, will
be making his first Asia Rugby Sevens Series start in Thailand.
“Tyler is very solid defensively and he has a lot of
physicality to his game as people saw when he made his fifteens
debut against Russia. He has worked hard to get himself into peak
sevens condition and has dealt with everything we have thrown at
him. He has a good work rate and will be an important addition for
us this weekend,” said Baber.
While Spitz is not yet eligible
to participate in the Olympic Qualifiers hosted in Hong Kong in
November and played under tight IOC eligibility restrictions, 9
of the 12-member squad tipped for Thailand are Olympic eligible.
One of those players is youngster Calvin Hunter, who has
come into the senior squad after some promising performances at
U20s level for Hong Kong. Hunter earned his second straight
selection after getting some expanded playing time in China once
Hong Kong were routed to the Plate.
“Calvin did well on his series debut. He got a
lot of playing time after we lost to China and contributed when he
was on the pitch. We want to give him another opportunity and see
how he handles himself against some of the top teams, who we
didn’t have a chance to play last time out,” Baber said.
Hong Kong’s Olympic qualification hopes
will also get a boost with several veterans slated to return from
injury ahead of the November qualifier, including try-scoring
threat Tom McQueen (ankle), x-factor player Keith Robertson (calf)
and workhorse forwards Mark Wright (ankle), Tsang Hing Hung
(shoulder) and Kwok Ka Chun (shoulder).
“There is a good
amount of quality and experience in that group in the wings and a
lot of the newer squad members are getting good experience on a
highly competitive Asian series, so the competition for spots is
going to be really high which is what you want as a coach,” said
But most pressing now is the upcoming tournament in
Thailand where Hong Kong is seeded in Pool B alongside top seeds
Sri Lanka and Chinese Taipei. Hong Kong has yet to face either
opponent this season but coach Baber is well aware of the threats
“It’s a good level of competition in the Pool
with Sri Lanka and Taipei. We haven’t played either of them but we
are very familiar with both sides from previous years. The mood in the squad is really good and the players are very
focused. We are confident, we have trained well and we know what we have to do. We understand that we need to prove ourselves in
every game and that as the champions no one will take us lightly, just as we don’t take any of our opponents lightly.”
Hong Kong progresses as expected through the pool and quarterfinal
stages, a potential semi final against Japan is on the cards.
The Japan team in China was stocked with some of the Brave
Blossoms top sevens players including captain Katsuyuki Sakai and danger men Lomano Lemeki and Jamie Henry, indicating that Japan
also have their eyes set on the Olympic qualification this year, especially as they will host Rugby Sevens’ second Olympic
tournament at the Tokyo Olympics in 2020.
“Japan will be
on a bit of a high after beating South Africa at the Rugby World
Cup and I am sure that the sevens guys will be looking to make
their own news. They showed a bit of what they have in the opener
in China but they don’t look vastly different in terms of quality
from what we saw of them last season,” said Baber. “It’s
hard for me to assess them from just watching them from the
sidelines. We need to meet them face-to-face to see what they are bringing this season and what they will potentially bring in
November. That is the reason we always set our target as
reaching those cup semi finals. It’s not out of arrogance or any
expectation about what position we deserve. We know we don’t
deserve anything unless we earn it on the pitch and through our
preparations. But we want to reach those semi finals and play the
Japan’s and South Korea’s because that is where the learning lies
for the team.”
“We want to test ourselves. It’s not about
winning or reaching finals at this level. We need and want to
learn from every match. China was a good experience for us in that
respect. All we want to do is to test ourselves and play at our
top potential,” said Baber.
The Thailand Sevens will take place just outside
Bangkok at the SCG Stadium in Muang Thong Thani, Nonthaburi.
Hong Kong Men’s Sevens
Squad (Thailand Sevens)
Max Woodward (captain); Christopher Maize; Lee
Ka To, Cado; Michael Coverdale; Nicholas Hewson; Calvin Hunter;
Tyler Spitz; Alex McQueen; Jamie Hood; Rowan Varty; Yiu Kam Shing,
Salom; Ben Rimene.
Pictures from the Singha Thailand Sevens 2015.
Pictures from 2015 Cathay Pacific / HSBC Hong Kong Sevens.
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