Sevens set for coveted 'elite' status
Hong Kong rugby chiefs were celebrating yesterday after the seven-a-side game ticked all the eligibility requirements needed to become an elite sport at the Sports Institute starting next April.
The Josh Peters-led side finished runners-up at the Under-20 Asian Sevens Championship in Johor Baharu, Malaysia, to earn rugby the honour of becoming the first team sport at the elite training academy, provided the government-funded agency gives the green light.
'I am delighted that we are now in a position to work closely with the Hong Kong Sports Institute to establish rugby [sevens] as the first elite team sport in 2013,' said Hong Kong Rugby Football Union chairman Trevor Gregory (pictured), who watched the youngsters come through some anxious moments before achieving the proud goal.
Dai Rees, HKRFU head of performance, said: 'The top-three finish completes the set of results required for rugby to be considered for entry [to the Sports Institute].
'Over the next six months the senior management at the union will meet with senior officials at the institute to consider all aspects of the potential four-year funding.
'If rugby is accepted into the institute as the first team sport it will open up many opportunities for all performance sevens players in Hong Kong - men, women and junior.'
Trisha Leahy, chief executive of the institute, had confirmed earlier that once rugby had the required two senior and two junior results, it would be a formality for the sport to be recognised as elite. There are presently 15 sports on the elite roster. Rugby will be the first team sport.
After Jack Capon's heroics on the opening day in a come-from-behind win over Thailand, it was the turn of Martin Field to do likewise when he scored the match-winning try in a tense 17-12 victory over China in the crucial semi-finals, which ensured Hong Kong of at least finishing third - the minimum required to qualify for elite status.
'There were plenty of heart-stopping moments - against Thailand, then Taiwan and China,' Gregory said. 'We witnessed outstanding and committed performances from all the young Hong Kong men as they secured a well deserved place in the Cup final.'
Hong Kong's unbeaten run was ended in the final by hosts Malaysia, who won 26-22 win. A try by Hong Kong's Theo Rolston in the last seconds was disallowed for double movement. But it was a case of mission accomplished.
'This all started with the silver medal we won at the 2010 Asian Games in Guangzhou, and we have come a long way over the past two years,' Rees said.
Hong Kong began the watershed day against Taiwan, their final group game, which they won 21-14 to finish unbeaten on top of the group. China, who had been one of the revelations having knocked out Japan earlier in the tournament, were a huge obstacle, but thanks to Field's try, Hong Kong made it to the final and ensured a top-three finish.
In the other semi-final, Malaysia came from 14 points down to defeat Taiwan 17-14.
Hong Kong coach Alex Gibbs lauded his young side for staying focused on the task of landing rugby elite status. 'It has been a tough preparation phase in Hong Kong due to exams and players away overseas at university. The most pleasing aspect has been the way in which the guys have worked hard to gel as a team to produce two stylish sevens performances on day two,' Gibbs said.