Improving Aussies ready - boos or not
Australia are slowly but surely inching up the World Series standings, and will pose the biggest threat to the established triumvirate of New Zealand, Samoa and Fiji this weekend.
Lying in fourth place, Australia have reached the Cup semi-finals at the last two legs in Las Vegas and Adelaide, indicating they are on the brink of breaking through.
'My players have gone well, but there's still some improvement, that's for sure,' says Australian coach Michael O'Connor. Australia are five-time Cup winners, but the glory days are long gone - the last time they won was 22 years ago in 1988 when David Campese & Co used to strut their stuff.
'Hong Kong is the biggest tournament in the world series and has always been from day one,' O'Connor says. 'It is the most prestigious event and you always want to do well here.'
In the past, O'Connor has relied on a couple of Super 14 recruits to boost the squad, but this year he is sticking to the core guys who have played all season, although for many it will be their first time in Hong Kong.
'Only one guy played here last year, Dominic Shipley. It is a young squad, but they have come together as a group,' O'Connor said. 'We looked for players with ambition and those who have an appetite for work. You need guys with big lungs who make back-to-back efforts; you can't make one run and go have a breather.'
Australia will receive their traditional boos when they run out against Canada, Tonga and China in the pool games.
'You can't really prepare them [the new guys] for the atmosphere in Hong Kong. They won't really know until they go out there in front of 40,000 people,' says O'Connor.
He won't mind the boos as long as his side make it to the Cup competition, and then carry on into the final.