Home side could prove Asian Games 'surprise package'
Impressed by Hong Kong's victory against Wales, South Korea coach Kim Yun-ki said the local side could be a surprise at the Asian Games in Guangzhou - and claim gold.
Kim watched Hong Kong defeat the world champions and he was convinced the Bauhinia flag could fly high when Asia rolls out the big guns at the Games.
Korea, the two-time Asian Games champions, won gold when rugby was first contested as a medal sport at the Asiad in Bangkok in 1998, defended their title in Pusan in 2002, but were unable to match arch-rivals Japan four years ago in Doha, losing in the gold medal play-off.
'The way I see it, it's going to be South Korea, Japan and Hong Kong vying for gold in Guangzhou. I like the way Hong Kong played. They played with a lot of heart,' Kim said.
'Hong Kong are definitely the improving side in Asian rugby. We will have to watch out for them.'
While Korea were mowed down by South Africa 40-7 in their pool F match, Hong Kong won the crowd over against the Welsh, before unravelling against Japan.
'We're slowly preparing for Guangzhou and this young squad will probably not be the same squad as the one for Guangzhou,' Kim said. 'There will be changes. The Hong Kong Sevens serve as a good warm-up. It's not very often that Korea get to play the European and African nations. We need that kind of experience.'
Hong Kong coach Dai Rees reiterated the importance of the Hong Kong Sevens as the team set their sights on Guangzhou.
'We did well at the East Asian Games and this is part of our build-up towards the Asian Games. Beating Wales does boost our confidence, but this is only day two of the tournament and we have to make sure we don't think we have achieved what we had intended to do and that was to claim only a scalp. The guys have to keep their feet on the ground because we have more important matches to follow,' he said.
Unfortunately, those words came back to haunt him after losing to Japan.
China coach Jiang Xuming said the Asian Games would be a true test of his side's character.
'The game is getting more popular, especially after rugby becomes an Olympic sport [in 2016] and Guangzhou will be our first major test on home soil,' Jiang said. 'We're focused on that tournament, not only because it is the most important event for us this year, but because there will be high expectations since we are hosts.
'We really want to win gold,' said Jiang after his side suffered a narrow 17-12 loss to Canada. 'We have a lot of work to do before the games start.'
For Thailand, the Hong Kong Sevens also serves as good preparation for Guangzhou.
Thailand coach Nigel Henare, a former Kiwi provincial player, said: 'That's the main focus this year. We wanted to bring some young players and give them some experience. With the fitness level comes the skill level and that's what we are trying to learn. We're lacking in size.
'At the moment, I am concentrating on getting their fitness level up.'
Thailand are ranked sixth in Asia, which is why they are back in the Hong Kong Sevens after a few years in the wilderness. 'We had a little bit of success at last year's IRB Asian tournament in Sri Lanka, where we defeated South Korea and won the Plate. Hopefully, we'll improve by the time Guangzhou comes around,' Henare said.
Taiwan, China, Korea and Thailand lost all of their pool matches and will play in the Shield. Thailand face Zimbabwe, Taiwan play Italy and China take on Russia.