Varty zeroes in on one goal - victory
Rowan Varty captains Hong Kong for the first time this weekend with a straightforward objective for his men: victory in the Shanghai Sevens.
The 24-year-old takes over in the absence of injured skipper Mark Wright and insists Hong Kong can triumph in the first leg of the HSBC Asian Sevens Series.
'We've got to be targeting victory,' said the winger after a muddy training session ended in a torrential downpour yesterday. 'The last Asian sevens tournament which we played, in Borneo, we won and that was a really great feeling. This time last year, we ended up coming fifth by only losing one game in the tournament, which was a bit of a freak result really, so hopefully we can put that right and be up there in the final.'
Largely because of that fifth-placed finish, Hong Kong are ranked third in Asian sevens, though coach Dai Rees insists in his mind they are number two, given that only Japan have beaten them recently. With the International Rugby Board having announced this month that Japan will host a new leg of the World Sevens Series, Hong Kong have an even greater incentive to earn valuable ranking points in the Asian series, in the hope of securing an invitation to Tokyo.
'I don't know how they're going to do it yet, presumably the next-best team on the Asian circuit will get an invite. We want to play in as many circuit tournaments as possible because those are the ones that everyone sees and that's when you play against the best players,' said Varty.
'When we get results like beating Wales and Russia to win the Shield [at the 2010 Hong Kong Sevens] they mean a lot, and you look back on them as landmarks in your career.'
Hong Kong have two new sevens recruits in forward Pale Tauti and scrumhalf Peter McKee, while Mark Goosen returns after a two-year absence while training to be a pilot.
'It's a lot of responsibility [being captain],' said Varty, 'but I think a lot of us guys who've been around a while try and take the lead and direct the team a little bit.
'Wrighty's really important to us and he still will be when he comes back, but we've got guys like Pale and Goose, they're big guys and they win a lot of ball as well. Pale will bring a lot of physicality - we lacked that a little bit last year, we were a little bit light.'
Rees admits his new-look squad has an unknown feel to it, but insists: 'I haven't been as excited as this as a coach for a couple of tournaments.'
Rees is calm about playing without his first-choice captain, but admits that might not previously have been the case. 'It's a nice position to be in actually; as a union and as a group we probably couldn't have done without Mark a year ago,' he said. 'But we know we can play without him now and the lovely bit about it as a coach is we know one day soon he'll be back in a sevens shirt. So we've built strength in depth and that's the key element over the last 18 months.'
Hong Kong kick off pool C at the Yuanshen Stadium against Mongolia before taking on Malaysia. Japan are in pool B with Thailand and Taiwan, with the winners of C playing B's runners-up and vice-versa in the quarters. 'Really we need two wins to secure an easier quarter-final but who knows - last year Malaysia beat Japan and as a result we ended up playing Japan in the quarter-finals, so it'll be a tough tournament,' said Rees.
Elsewhere, South Korea face UAE and the Philippines in pool A, while China take on Sri Lanka and Kazakhstan in pool D.
The Hong Kong women's team are also in action, tackling China, Kazakhstan and Thailand in a four-team mini tournament.