England's hunger for World Cup success spells bad news for HK
Alvin Sallay in Dubai
England are on a mission to win some silverware at the World Cup Sevens which gets underway today in a bid to fill up the trophy cabinet at the RFU headquarters in Twickenham.
'We are desperate to win it,' said England coach Ben Ryan on the eve of the men's edition - with 24 teams taking part - which will take place at The Sevens stadium on the outskirts of this city.
'England has not had a lot of global silverware since we won the 15-a-side World Cup in 2003 and way before that the first sevens World Cup in 1993. We hope that will change this weekend,' Ryan said.
The England women's team, coached by two names familiar to Hong Kong fans - former England captain Simon Amor and coach Mike Friday - will also be aiming to do the same in the women's World Cup which will take place side-by-side with the men's. A total of 16 teams will take part in this inaugural tournament.
Ryan will be banking on the huge support from the expatriate crowd, mostly English, to lift his side when they come up against Hong Kong in the opening pool game tonight.
'It is good that the format is just one game on Thursday night. So it means you just concentrate fully on that one game and we know Hong Kong are well organised and that they play a lot together and know each other's game inside out,' Ryan said. 'They won't be an easy side to break down, and they got one or two excellent players. We are looking to that game first and make sure we play to our potential. If we do that the result will look after itself,' he added.
England will only boast a couple of names familiar to Hong Kong fans - Ben Gollings, Andy Vilk and Tom Varndell, who will be returning to the side after a two-year absence. The speedy winger was a member of the side who played at the 2006 Hong Kong Sevens and also part of the team who won a Commonwealth Games silver medal that same year. But then he moved on to represent England at 15s.
'This is part of Tom's rebirth. He is desperate to show that he is a world-class wing and this tournament will give him the opportunity,' Ryan said.
The Leicester winger is one of two changes Ryan has made to the squad who won the Wellington Sevens last month and reached the final in San Diego. Ryan has also recalled Josh Drauniniu who has recovered from a leg injury sustained during the opening leg of the IRB Sevens in Dubai in November.
Gollings, the all-time leading point-scorer in the IRB Sevens series is the only member of the squad who played at the last World Cup in 2005 in Hong Kong, where England's hopes of adding to their 1993 title were dashed by Fiji's Waisale Serevi who scored a memorable sudden-death try in the semi-finals.
England currently share top spot in the standings with South Africa and Ryan is pleased with the recent form of his team.
'I'm pretty happy with the way team has gone this season. In the last few years, you have seen England sides underperforming and just not playing for a number of reasons,' Ryan said. 'We were getting players who didn't really deserve to wear the shirt, players who were not fit enough and who couldn't play the game the way we wanted to play. That's been turned on its head now.
'By no means are we the finished product yet, although we are on our way to achieving that,' Ryan said confidently.
The competition will be intense over the next three days according to Ryan. He said: 'All the top teams are looking forward to winning the Cup. Whether it is dark horses like Kenya, or Argentina, or the mainstays like New Zealand, South Africa, Fiji or Samoa. We are in this bracket and want to give it a crack.'