HK boosted by new strength in depth
It turned out to be a memorable debut for Josh Peters in Goa, India, last weekend. Called up at the last minute into the national side, the teenager not only won his spurs but also performed creditably as Hong Kong won their first tournament in the HSBC Asian Sevens Series this season to cement their position as No 2 in Asia.
Peters, 18, a naturally gifted scrumhalf, was in the right place at the right time and made the most of his opportunity. With the Hong Kong Rugby Football Union deciding that despite a date clash, they would commit to two sevens tournaments in India and Australia, a pool of 25 players was called up last week - 12 to take part in the third leg of the Asian Sevens Series in India and 13 to go on a fortnight-long tour of Australia.
Former Hong Kong International School schoolboy Peters was in neither the Goa-bound squad captained by Simon Leung Ho-yam nor Rowan Varty's Down Under team. But Kenneth Hsieh Chun-hang broke his thumb on the eve of departure, giving Peters an opportunity he seized.
'He was very impressive,' said Alex Gibbs, coach of the team in Goa. 'Josh is confident and aggressive and has a natural style well-suited for the game. He showed a lot of promise.'
The days when an injury to one or two key players would cause dismay in the ranks are long gone as the past fortnight, and the seamless entry of Peters, proved. It is a heartening state of affairs as Hong Kong prepare for an important next 12 months with qualifying for the 2013 Rugby World Cup Sevens in Moscow coming up.
It is still unclear how the qualifiers will work, whether the Asian Rugby Football Union will decide on a separate qualifying tournament - as they did last time when Hong Kong qualified alongside Japan for the 2009 World Cup in Dubai - or if it will depend on the new ranking system put in place thanks to the annual Asian Sevens Series. Either way, Hong Kong are well-placed, ranked second behind Japan, and with a big squad to choose from, leaving national coach Dai Rees contented.
'We're building up towards next year's qualifiers for the World Cup and beyond to the Olympics . This past week has been immense. It was all about development, and it's great to see Hong Kong being able to have two teams simultaneously in India and Australia. We are one squad maximising the chance to develop the whole squad,' Rees said.
'We need as much top-level competition as possible so we can try to catch up with Japan or at least keep nipping at their heels. We need to remain in the top two in Asia.'
While Japan and other top-flight Asian sides like South Korea did not turn up in Goa, the two tournaments the Varty-led team played in Australia were against high-calibre opposition including the Australia, Fijian, and New Zealand sides preparing for this weekend's opening leg of the HSBC Sevens World Series in Gold Coast. Hong Kong reached the Cup quarter-finals, losing to the Australian national side 21-14.
'We have shown that we are not only competitive against teams in Asia but that we also competing against the top IRB teams,' said a satisfied Rees.