Learning from the very best
NZ fact-finding trip should yield benefits for Hong Kong, says coach McIntosh
Imitation might be the sincerest form of flattery, but Hong Kong coach Rodney McIntosh is aware he cannot go the whole nine yards and copy everything he witnessed on his 'Seeing is Believing' trip to Wellington last month where he watched how the New Zealand sevens squad get licked into shape.
'It was an unbelievable experience. I have learned so much watching how New Zealand prepare for a tournament, how they approach a big event and what it takes to be the best. But I have to be realistic. We are not New Zealand and there would be a danger in trying to replicate everything,' says McIntosh.
In a bid to learn from the best, McIntosh asked his good friend and Kiwi counterpart, Gordon Tietjens, if he could be part of New Zealand's build-up to the Wellington Sevens. Tietjens had no problem with the request and McIntosh spent a fortnight with the New Zealand squad as they prepared for the third leg of the IRB Sevens.
'I became part of the squad. I knew Titch [Tietjens] had the reputation of being a hard taskmaster, but I was amazed at how hard he made the players work. They are one of the fittest and most technically adept sides around,' McIntosh says.
It was not supposed to be a copycat mission. McIntosh is the first to admit that what he learned cannot be fully translated and put into use by the Hong Kong squad this weekend.
'That would be foolhardy, trying to do exactly what they do. But what was most satisfying was to find that we are not too far off in what we are trying to accomplish. I have a few new technical ideas that we will be looking to implement this weekend.'
McIntosh is aware that he would be asking for too much from Hong Kong's part-time players if he tried to duplicate what the fitter, more skilled New Zealand professionals do. 'Obviously we are not in the same category as them,' says McIntosh. 'For instance, Rowan Varty is one of our fastest players. He can run five seconds flat for a standing 40 [metres], but there are at least nine players in the New Zealand squad who can go under five. 'But I have been very impressed with how they use their set-piece play to break down the opposition defence. They have some slick moves.'
If some of these 'slick moves' come off, Hong Kong are in with a strong chance of avenging their 21-7 defeat at the hands of South Korea, who knocked them out of medal contention at the Asian Games last December. The Koreans are Hong Kong's main target in the pool competition with England and Argentina expected to be too strong. 'We will have a crack at Korea,' says McIntosh, relishing the chance to avenge their defeat in Doha.
With five IRB-qualified players - skipper Nigel D'Acre, Colin Bisley, Justin Gregory, Andrew Chambers and Kris Marin - in the mix this time around (the remaining seven played at the Asian Games), Hong Kong are expected to be more competitive. But McIntosh is wary.
'Korea are the number two Asian side while we are ranked fifth, so we have immense respect for them,' says McIntosh. 'I'm looking forward to playing them again because I think this time, with a few extra players and a bit of manipulation of our game plan, we could be very competitive.'
Hong Kong did not show their hand on a visit to Seoul this month where they played four games, losing three and winning one. They were missing Varty, Mark Wright and Kenzo Pannell, and McIntosh feels the seeds of confusion might have been planted on that visit. 'Mark Wright was not there, but the Koreans thought Colin Bisley was him. I wonder what they will think when both of them front up this weekend,' smiles McIntosh.
Bisley is set to figure alongside Wright in the forwards. The latter was outstanding at the Asian Games.
'Colin will be a real strike player for us whether we play him in the backs or forwards. Mark Wright and Colin together will definitely not be out of place. Mark is exceptional,' McIntosh says.
With something old (Wright) and something new (Bisley), and armed with the knowledge of how the best (New Zealand) play the game, Hong Kong are set to reap the rewards of a programme started almost 15 months ago. 'The nucleus of this young squad [Asian Games players] has been together for quite a while and this is a huge upside. I think it bodes well for the next Asian Games,' says McIntosh.
But for now, the focus will be on claiming the scalp of the Koreans.