Hong Kong get off to a flying start
It was a case of job well done for Hong Kong yesterday as they kicked off their HSBC Asian Sevens Series campaign with two impressive wins to set up a quarter-final against Thailand.
Dai Rees' men scored 13 tries and conceded only one as they outclassed Mongolia 59-0 and then put paid to a potentially tricky Malaysia side 28-7 with a superb first-half performance.
Keith Robertson, new captain Rowan Varty and Ant Haynes were standouts in front of a sparse crowd on an overcast day at Shanghai's Yuanshen Stadium, but a new-look Hong Kong side were impressive all round to give Rees plenty of reason for optimism today.
'It was a very efficient day,' said the coach. 'Not particularly strong opposition first up, but Malaysia as we know with their Fijian influence are a strong side. I was really pleased seeing things we've worked on come off - we've increased our offload, high-risk game to get out of the contact area and it worked well.'
Mongolia had spent three days travelling by bus and train from Ulan Bator to Shanghai and if they weren't tired enough after that, they would have been after fruitlessly chasing Robertson's shadow.
He scored a hat-trick of tries and four conversions to record 23 of the 33 points Hong Kong recorded in the first seven minutes of their campaign, Varty and Yui Kam-shing also going over. Yui and Tsang Hiong-hung added to the tally in the second half, while new boy Pete McKee opened his account and Mark Goosen marked his return to the side after a two-year absence with another.
Malaysia were expected to provide much sterner opposition, but Hong Kong tore into them from the off, Robertson adding to his try tally before a double from Haynes and one from Tom McQueen established a 28-0 half-time lead. Though Malaysia were much improved in the second half, Hong Kong restricted them to just one touchdown.
'To be fair to Malaysia they came back in the second half and fired into us but we stood strong,' added Rees. 'I was able to make some changes as well, everybody's played a game, game and a half on the first day. That was going to be tough with only two games but we've managed to achieve it.
'Keith ended last season in poor form because of his work commitments and a tough Asian Games, but he's in superb form, you can see he's bouncing; he's been in the gym a lot and working hard - they all are, they're all in good shape.
'They showed the application and attitude we'll need tomorrow.'
Thailand just edged out Taiwan 28-26 but ran Japan close before running out of steam in a 26-5 defeat and Rees is not taking them lightly. The Philippines showed the danger the lesser-ranked teams can pose by beating last year's champions South Korea 19-7 in the day's standout result.
'All the top sides are looking beatable,' added Rees, whose team are seeded for a semi-final meeting with nemesis Japan. 'Malaysia aren't going to lie down against Japan in the quarters and they're capable of upsetting the applecart, there was a great win for the Philippines and China have been pushed all the way so there's no easy games now.'
The only downside for Hong Kong was a knee injury to Pale Tauti, impressive on his sevens debut, but Rees was hopeful the forward would be fit to play today.
China beat Kazakhstan and Sri Lanka to set up a repeat of last year's final against South Korea, while the Philippines face Kazakhstan in the other quarter-final.
In the women's mini tournament, Hong Kong were desperately off the pace, losing to China, Thailand and Kazakhstan.