Tauti set for high-impact sevens debut
With eyes already set on the Rugby World Cup Sevens in Moscow in 2013, Hong Kong will pin their hopes on Pale Tauti laying down the law as the influential forward makes his international seven-a-side debut at the Shanghai Sevens this weekend.
Back-row forward Tauti, who was outstanding in Hong Kong's Asian Five Nations campaign in May-June, is one of two new faces in the squad for the opening leg of the HSBC Asian Sevens Series. The other is scrumhalf Peter McKee.
Head coach Dai Rees is already planning his strategy for qualification for the World Cup and will be looking to Tauti to make an impact on ball-winning, an area where Hong Kong has been lacking.
'We have drafted in a couple of the stand-out players from the Asian Five Nations and they bring added quality to the side,' Rees said. 'A lot will depend on how they can translate their 15s skills to sevens as they don't have as much top-level sevens experience compared to other members of the squad.
'But we expect them to bring some real physicality and robustness to the side. It became apparent at last year's Hong Kong Sevens that lots of teams are becoming more and more powerful at the contact area and these players will help us with this,' Rees said.
Rowan Varty will lead the 12-strong squad in the absence of Mark Wright, whose recovery from a shoulder operation has been delayed after a setback in the gym.
Apart from Tauti and McKee, the rest of the squad are all sevens' regulars, although flanker Mark Goosen will be returning after a two-year break due to work commitments.
Rees has set his sights high as Hong Kong come up against arch-rivals and top seeds Japan, as well as dangerous opponents like South Korea and China.
'Our expectations as a team are high. A podium finish is a must this weekend,' Rees said.
'Being the first event of the series, it is the start of a new era for us. We drew a line in the sand after a disappointing Hong Kong Sevens. Now we enter what is really an 18-month preparation for the Rugby World Cup Sevens qualifiers ahead of the RWC 2013 in Russia.
'Japan are busy preparing for Rugby World Cup 2011 and we don't really know what they will show up with in terms of a squad, while hosts China are an unknown as well in terms of what they have done since the series last year and the Hong Kong Sevens. But I am expecting that the standard to have increased,' Rees said.
Japan will be the top seeds in the 12-team tournament that, along with next month's Borneo Sevens, forms the two ranking events on the Asian Sevens Series calendar.
Hong Kong will also take part in two new non-ranking tournaments in Bangkok and Goa, India in November. These two events will be eight-team tournaments.
The number of teams competing in the Shanghai Sevens rugby tournament this weekend
Hong Kong squad
Rowan Varty (captain), Anthony Haynes, Tsang Hing-hung, Kwok Ka-chun, Mark Goosen, Pale Tauti, Fan Shun-kei, Peter McKee, Keith Robertson, Alex McQueen, Salom Yiu Kam-shing, Tom McQueen.