HK gain chance of revenge over Japan
Hong Kong have the opportunity to avenge their heart-breaking loss to Japan in the gold medal final at December's East Asian Games after they were thrown into the same pool as the Asian champions at last night's Hong Kong Sevens draw.
'That loss is still fresh in our minds and this will not only give us the chance to make amends, but also prepare for the Asian Games in Guangzhou in November,' said Hong Kong head coach Dai Rees.
While Japan will be the arch-enemy, it might be a case of divided loyalties for Rees when Hong Kong take on Wales, whom he used to coach before taking up his current post. Wales, the reigning World Cup sevens champions and England, four-time winners here, are the other two teams in Hong Kong's pool.
It is not every year that the Cathay Pacific/Credit Suisse Hong Kong Sevens are seen as a stepping stone for the home team, but next month's tournament is being regarded as such by Hong Kong, who are aiming for the gold medal in November's Asian Games in Guangzhou.
Hong Kong came close at the East Asian Games, only to be denied by Japan in overtime in the gold medal match. That defeat still hurts and Hong Kong will be aiming to make amends at the bigger Asian Games.
'The Hong Kong Sevens is usually the pinnacle of our sevens season, but we are not forgetting that our preparation for the Asian Games started immediately after we lost to Japan in the final at the East Asian Games,' Rees said. 'A strong performance at the Hong Kong Sevens will be a huge part of that [preparation], and our goal is to be sure that we are in the final again at the Asian Games in Guangzhou.
'We couldn't have asked for a better pool. It's a tough pool and will be just perfect for our needs. England have won this tournament many times, Wales are the current world champions and Japan is the team which beat us with the last move of the game at the East Asian Games. It couldn't get any better.'
The past 12 months or so have been fruitful for the local sevens squad. While the gold slipped through their hands, winning the silver medal at the East Asian Games is no mean feat considering that Hong Kong defeated full-strength teams from South Korea and China.
'It has been a very productive year and there have been some significant changes in the way the team is managed since the last Hong Kong Sevens,' Rees said. 'All our international players are now engaged in the domestic game in Hong Kong where they can be assessed on both their playing form and fitness, and where they can be fully available for our domestic training programme.'
The World Games in Taiwan last summer, the Asian Sevens Series in Shanghai and Kota Kinabalu, and the East Asian Games gave Rees the opportunity to look at several players.
'We are now in a position where the players know they have to earn the right to be in the national team training squad, and they have to make the commitment in their fitness and availability to be successful,' he said.