HK out to show who's Asia's No 1
Hong Kong are out to prove to the International Rugby Board (IRB) that they should be given more than just one chance to play in the HSBC World Sevens Series when they run out to defend their title at the Borneo Sevens today.
'We deserve more than one tournament on the IRB World Sevens Series, and the new tournament in Japan offers us the best chance next year,' Hong Kong captain Rowan Varty said. 'But to do that we have to push forward our credentials and the only way to do that is to be the No1 team in Asia.'
Hong Kong will accomplish that goal if they win the 12-team tournament this weekend in Borneo, the second and final ranking tournament in the HSBC Asian Sevens Series. Last month they finished runners-up to South Korea at the Shanghai Sevens, and need nothing less than Cup victory to be ranked No 1.
Standing in their way are South Korea, a new-look Japan team with a couple of Pacific islanders, as well as the fast-rising Philippines and China. But the possibility of playing in two IRB world series events in 2012 will be a powerful motivator.
'We are the No 2 team behind Japan in 15s in Asia. Now we want to be the best in sevens. I believe if we can win this event, the chances of playing at the Tokyo Sevens next year will increase. Of course that will depend on the IRB and the Japanese,' Varty said.
As hosts, Hong Kong are assured of a berth at the Hong Kong Sevens, with the rest of Asia scrambling for one of five remaining places allocated to them at next March's showpiece. This is where the Asian ranking system comes into play and that is the goal for all the teams here - to book their berth in Hong Kong.
But Varty's team want more. If they are the best sevens team in Asia, it will be hard for the IRB to ignore their case for an extra tournament, and with Tokyo added to the schedule next season, that is the obvious contender.
'It is incredibly important for us as this will give us anoher chance to play against the world's top teams. Right now we only get one opportunity in Hong Kong,' Varty said.
More exposure to the world's best is vital in the run-up to next year's qualifying process for the 2013 Rugby World Cup Sevens in Moscow and with the 2016 Rio Olympics in sight.
There are two changes to the 12-strong squad that fell at the final hurdle in Shanghai with flanker Nick Hewson and scrumhalf Tim Alexander coming in.
Former Waikato backrower Hewson is set to make his debut at sevens, and was excited at the prospect, while Alexander returns to the side after almost a year away. 'I never thought I would be playing sevens for Hong Kong,' Hewson said. 'I played in the last two Asian Five Nations [15s] tournaments, but this is a totally different ball game,' the 27-year-old said.
Hewson will have the responsibility of winning good possession for Hong Kong and yesterday the squad paid special attention to this aspect in an intensive 90-minute workout.
Hong Kong are pooled with Malaysia, Taiwan and Brunei. They are expected to win the pool and will then meet the third-best team from one of the other two pools. The first big test is expected in the semi-finals tomorrow when they are seeded to meet Japan, with South Korea likely opponents in the final if they get past that hurdle.