'Ant' steps up as HK opt for youth
They are brothers and have played side by side, from mini-rugby to school. But this weekend, Anthony and Edward Haynes get their first chance to play together on the biggest stage of all.
'He used to be the fly-half and I was inside centre, side by side, when we played for West Island School but that was almost four years ago,' smiled 21-year-old Ant Haynes (as he is familiarly known). 'This will be the first time I get to play with him at the Sevens, although we won't be exactly next to each other.'
That is because the 90-kilogram Ant (left in picture with brother Ed) will play as hooker, while Ed, the elder by 20 months, will stick to the backs. It will be Ant's fourth Sevens, while Ed will be making his debut. Oh, and Ant is also the captain. The absence of the injured Mark Wright (who led Hong Kong last year as well as at the Asian Games) and Jeff Wong Chun-kiu (skipper at the Rugby World Cup Sevens and East Asian Games, both in 2009) has paved the way for the younger Haynes to accept the responsibility.
'It is a huge honour for me and a proud moment for my family,' said Ant. 'It will be extra-special because I will have my brother playing with me for the first time.'
The selectors and head coach Dai Rees could have played safe and given the captaincy to Simon Leung Ho-yam, skipper of the 15s team who has also captained at sevens, or they could have plumped for two of the most experienced players in Rowan Varty or Keith Robertson.
But at 21, it was felt Ant Haynes had the edge over the others - at least three to four years in the case of Robertson and Varty - in youth and time to develop as Hong Kong look ambitiously towards qualifying for the Olympic Games in 2016.
Five years from now, he will be in his prime and, as he has committed himself to the game for the next few years, it was thought he was the best captaincy material.
'It was important to introduce new players to the captaincy and Anthony has the benefit of being young and will likely still be in contention as we approach qualification for the Rugby World Cup Sevens [in 2013] and the Olympics,' said Rees.Ant Haynes knows what it is to taste victory with 40,000 fans yelling their support. In 2009, he was part of the side who scored memorable wins over Portugal and Tonga. Then last year, Hong Kong defeated Wales 21-19 in pool play before going on to win the Shield silverware with a 19-17 victory over Russia.
'It is going to be tough. Losing Mark [Wright] is a big blow but we have the players who can step in,' Ant said. 'Wales are a professional team and will be determined to turn over last year's result but we will be giving it our best shot. The game we will try and target is Spain.'
There are three more newcomers to the Hong Kong Sevens - Sebastian Perkins, Jamie Hood and Adam Raby - and how soon they settle down in the pressure-cooker atmosphere could be the difference between grabbing a big scalp or not. Hong Kong face Wales first up this evening, followed by pool E seeds South Africa then Spain tomorrow.
The rest of the squad comprises Kwok Ka-chun, Tsang Hing-hung, Fan Shun-kei and Salom Yiu Kam-shing, all products of the system. While the Haynes brothers and the likes of Varty and Robertson have come up from the mini-rugby, others such as Yiu picked up the game at secondary and tertiary level.
Right now there are 3,896 boys and girls playing mini-rugby - almost double the numbers from four years ago - and they can look at trailblazers Haynes and company in these three days with hopes of one day following in their footsteps.
Dreams will be made this weekend.
Hooker, 21, 1.83m, 88kg
Flyhalf, 23, 1.8m, 83kg